Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with Arizona’s controversial immigration law what will happen in states with similar laws? How will produce operations that rely on migrant work crews be impacted?

While striking down three provisions in the Arizona law – all immigrants must obtain or carry immigration registration papers; law enforcement can arrest suspected undocumented workers without a warrant; it is a crime for the undocumented to seek, or hold, a job – the Supreme Court kept in place the ability of police to check the immigration status of those they believe could be in the country illegally.

See more here and here.

“For United Fresh and the produce industry, immigration and related issues have been a long-time concern and interest,” said Julie Maines of the United Fresh Produce Association. “Estimates vary, but you see consistently that well over half – even upwards of three-quarters – of the folks who work in the fields in the produce industry haven’t been born in this country. So, certainly, anything related to immigration policy is of great interest to our industry.”

Shortly after the ruling Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a North Carolina audience mass deportations aren’t feasible. To solve the problem of illegal aliens, Vilsack advocated “securing the border, having immigrants pay taxes, learn English, and gain the ability to work with a permit.”

Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, simply wants a worker program that works. Having seen the fallout from Arizona-style laws targeting illegal workers in his home state – which included produce left to rot in the field last summer due to a lack of work crews to harvest it – Hall also tells a cautionary tale for other states considering such legislation. Among his comments:

On how the Georgia legislation came about…

“We have a Republican (state) House, Senate and governor. There were concerns that the ‘undocumented’ workers in Georgia were costing municipalities, school systems, hospitals and taxpayers excessive amounts of money. And the undocumented workers were taking jobs away from citizens. That was the basis of why the legislation was introduced.

“It passed in the 2011 general assembly – which started in January and eventually adjourned in early April. We have a winter/spring general assembly that can’t meet for more than 40 days.

“The legislation was signed May 13, 2011, to go into effect July 1, 2011.”

On the legislation’s particulars and legal pushback…

“It didn’t really sneak up on us. We knew the discussion (on H.B.87) was going on and there was a companion bill in the Senate that was a bit different. The House bill is the one that eventually passed.

“There were some attempts during the last day of the session to defeat -- or make major changes to – the bill. Those attempts were unsuccessful.

“The bill provides, primarily, two components of immigration reform. First is mandatory E-Verify. All businesses in Georgia with 10, or more, employees will eventually have to E-Verify under this law. That will be phased in and began Jan. 1, 2012, with any employer with 500, or more, employees. On Jan. 1, 2013, any employer with 200, or more, employees will have to E-Verify. On July 1, 2013, any employer with 10, or more, employees will have to E-Verify.

“Second is the enforcement side of the law. That would give law enforcement various rights to ask for papers, make it illegal for an undocumented worker to get a job in Georgia. It contains some of the similar language in the Arizona law.

“However, a suit was filed before July 1, 2011, by a number of organizations including the ACLU. The judge impounded two portions of the Georgia law. One was a section commonly called ‘show me your papers.’ If you’re stopped at a traffic infraction or accident, a law enforcement agent can ask to see your papers to show you’re a U.S. citizen.

“The other section under injunction says if you knowingly transport an illegal alien, an undocumented worker, then you can be charged with a felony. This section was aimed at anyone smuggling illegal workers in. But what would happen if a teenage daughter driving an undocumented parent to the grocery store? What happens if they have an accident? They could be charged with a felony for carrying their parent to the store.

“Those injunctions worked through the courts. On March 1, 2012, the 11th Circuit in Atlanta heard the case. They said no ruling on either section would happen until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Arizona law. They said the Arizona case could have some bearing on the Georgia law.”