Delegates to the Georgia Farm
Bureau's annual convention voted Tuesday to adopt a policy that opposes
any state immigration measure that "discriminates against the farm worker" and puts farmers at a competitive disadvantage. The vote marks the first time the Farm Bureau has adopted an immigration policy directed specifically at Georgia state leaders.
"We think immigration is a federal issue, and it needs a federal solution," said Jon Huffmaster, the Farm Bureau's legislative director. "And we think a patchwork of state laws could cause more problems than it solves."
farmers are heavily dependent on immigrant labor to harvest crops by
hand, particularly vegetables and peaches that are easily bruised and
damaged by machines. Huffmaster said farmers in vegetable-growing
regions first pushed for the new policy, one of many that was created
or revised during the convention at Jekyll Island.
Georgia have signaled their willingness to adopt tougher sanctions
against the estimated 475,000 illegal immigrants in the state, many of
whom work in agriculture. Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, a Republican, said
during the campaign that he would support an Arizona-style immigration
law. That state approved a measure that requires police officers, when
enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those they
suspect are in the country illegally.
Meanwhile, a committee of
Republican lawmakers was created in September to study illegal
immigration and its effects on Georgia. The co-chair, Rep. Matt Ramsey,
said members will try to fill gaps in state law and add enforcement
tools to existing laws.
Ramsey said state officials have been forced to wade into immigration policy because of the federal government's inaction.
would respectfully disagree with any statement that the state has no
role in this," the Peachtree City Republican said. "In my opinion, the
status quo is unacceptable, and that is the consensus of the members of
the immigration reform committee."
State Sen. Jack Murphy, a
Republican from Cumming and co-chair of the legislative committee on
immigration, said he guarantees that farmers' interests will be taken
into account but that the committee would go ahead and propose
legislation on immigration at the state level.
"We don't want to
do anything to harm them economically," he said. "They don't want a law
that's going to affect them adversely, and that's understandable. But
you can't just say you don't want a law period."
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said he was pleased to hear of the Farm
Bureau's vote. He has spoken before the legislative committee, where he
argued that an Arizona-style law would seriously harm the state's
"I am glad that the Georgia Farm
Bureau is looking at this issue very, very seriously," he said. "Our
legislators should focus their power and influence to urge our U.S.
Congress to work on a comprehensive immigration package with President
Obama. That's the real solution."
The political moves in the
Statehouse have worried farmers, an important political constituency
because agriculture is Georgia's largest single economic sector. A
University of Virginia study found that Prince William County, Va.'s
hardball approach to illegal immigrants had reduced their numbers but
created an ethnic divide in perceptions of the county.
The conflicts are easy to spot in Lyons, a small town in southeast Georgia where farmers raise Vidalia onions.
in the rural countryside, there are enough immigrant workers from
Central and South America to support a grocery store and small
restaurant on the town's main drag. It sells phone cards and
Aries Haygood, 27, said his farm
needs 65 field laborers and 50 people working in a packing house during
the height of the onion harvest, which starts in late April. Although
it's unclear exactly what state leaders might do, Haygood said any law
that scares away immigrant workers could harm the regional economy.
farmer said he is willing to hire native workers, but not enough people
will labor in the fields. He depends on a private company to send
migrant workers with visas to man his farming operation.
this plan, whatever they decide to come up with, is not 100 percent
right, it could cost some farmers their jobs," Haygood said. "Anytime
you start telling folks you can be pulled over and asked about your
status and you could be asked to leave, folks will stop coming."
Associated Press Writer Kate Brumback contributed to this report from Atlanta.