The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, signed into law last May by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, cost the state more than $340 million and more than 3,000 jobs, despite assurances from Gov. Deal that eliminating illegal labor would create 11,000 new jobs.

“Georgia should be the poster child for what not to do with E-Verify (Electronic Employment Verification Program) and illegal worker enforcement,” said Charles Hall, executive director, Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. Hall spoke as part of a panel on immigration reform during the Texas Produce Association annual conference last week in San Antonio.

He said Georgia’s enforcement regulations are “similar to Arizona’s, and E-Verify will be mandatory following a two-year phase-in. All employers who have ten or more workers have to use E-Verify by July 1, 2013,” Hall said.

Hall said even before the 2011 fruit and vegetable harvest got underway reports began coming in about labor shortages. “Harvesters either were not coming in or they were leaving,” he said. “A May survey showed that harvest crews were from 30 percent to 50 percent short.”

He said on June 1 Gov. Deal released a statement saying the newly enacted law would “create 11,000 employment opportunities.” He also suggested use of probationers to take up the slack. “The Department of Corrections did a yeoman’s job of helping,” Hall said. But the labor shortage was not stemmed.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued in early June to stop the law. On June 27, a judge granted a stay on two of the most onerous provisions: “Show me your papers,” (requiring any suspected illegal to present documentation) and a provision that made it a felony to knowingly transport an illegal alien.

Hall said before the law took effect Georgia’s unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. After the harvest season, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. “And about 40 percent of the fruit and vegetable crop was left in the field because of a lack of harvesters,” Hall said.

That amounted to a $180 million loss at the farm gate. The multiplier effect across the state’s economy resulted in a $340 million loss of state revenue.

Hall said agriculture lost 1,512 jobs and total job loss was 3,260, including truckers and others who deal with fresh fruit and vegetable processing and transportation.

“The assumption that E-Verify creates jobs by getting illegal workers out of the state is simply not true,” Hall said. “We can’t get domestic workers to pick cucumbers.”