What is in this article?:
- Produce industry monitoring fallout from immigration labor laws
- Fear of enforcement
- Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with Arizona’s controversial immigration law, what will happen in states with similar laws? What will be the impact on produce operations that rely on migrant work crews?
“For United Fresh and the produce industry, immigration and related issues have been a long-time concern and interest,” says Julie Maines of the United Fresh Produce Association.
Fear of enforcement
More on the run-up to the passing of the Georgia law…
“What did catch us by surprise was the extent of the fear of enforcement. We expected the E-Verify component to be much more difficult to handle and to have the biggest effect.
“What happened is the law passed and the governor signed it May 13 to great fanfare. At that point, the rumor mill really cranked up in the labor camps and among the harvest crews expected to travel from Florida to Georgia. By late May/early June, all kinds of rumors were floating around.
“This was 30 to 45 days prior to the law going into effect. There were rumors that Georgia was setting up roadblocks at the Florida border. None of that was true.
“Even so, we started getting reports from our growers in late May that harvest crews that normally came to their operations from Florida weren’t coming. The crews said they didn’t want any hassles from law enforcement. And some of the crew members were legal workers, but because they’re Hispanic they feared being singled out.”
Harvest crews and a study…
“We wound up doing a study and survey regarding that and found that Georgia growers were about 40 percent short of harvest crews.”
“Harvest crews are typically migratory. As the various crops mature, they’ll start in south Florida, move into north Florida, then Georgia, through the Carolinas and up the East Coast into New Jersey and New York. Then, they reverse course to work the fall vegetable crops.
“When the crews didn’t come, we had major crop losses. The study, done by the University of Georgia, said we had a crop loss of roughly $140 million.”
Can H-2A be fixed? Do we need something entirely different?
“Right now, the H-2A (wikipedia.org/wiki/H-2A_Visa) program is not workable for many people. That’s because of the ridiculous, bureaucratic rules part of the program.
“Prior to (President) Bush leaving office in 2010, H-2A was being made into a more useable program. Unfortunately, when the Obama administration came in they made major changes and H-2A became almost unusable for many growers, although some use it.
“However, it’s a much more difficult program to work through. It’s very paper-oriented. A small grower that needs five or 10 workers has to spend a ridiculous amount of time to fill out the H-2A paperwork.
“We need some type of guest worker program. We need a nationwide E-Verify. Otherwise, you’ll have states – like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina that have passed E-Verify laws – that sit out there like an island with workers preferring states that don’t have E-Verify laws.”
The current growing season and the state of the Georgia legislature…
“There were no changes to the laws during the 2012 legislative session.
“I think we’re getting some politicians to listen but it isn’t enough. Our legislature is dominated by the metro areas and many of the politicians from there feel (the immigration laws) has done some good. We’re not sure exactly how and where, but that’s the perception.
“This year, we’ve also had adequate worker numbers. Part of the reason, we believe, is because of the two enforcement sections of the law that have been impounded. So crews came back to the state.
“Of course, we don’t know what will happen next year. It’s very much up in the air depending on what the ruling will be on the enforcement sections of the law. We’re expecting that to come down in the next couple of months.”
“Any legislature looking at an immigration that’s enforcement-based — whether mandatory E-Verify or not — there must also be some type of guest worker program tied to it. That’s what we’ve been telling Congress.”