The Effects of Anti-Immigrant Legislation

Seems that passing H.B. 87, anti-immigrant legislation modeled on Arizona’s S.B. 1070, hasn’t turned out that great for Georgia:

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal started the experiment after farmers publicly complained they couldn’t find enough workers to harvest labor-intensive crops such as cucumbers and berries because Latino workers — including many illegal immigrants — refused to show up, even when offered one-time or weekly bonuses. One crew who previously worked for Mendez told him they wouldn’t come to Georgia for fear of risking deportation.

Farmers told state authorities in an unscientific survey that they had more than 11,000 unfilled agriculture jobs, although it’s not clear how that compares to prior years or whether the shortage can be blamed on the new law.

For more than a week, the state’s probation officers have encouraged their unemployed offenders to consider taking field jobs. While most offenders are required to work while on probation, statistics show they have a hard time finding jobs. Georgia’s unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent, but correction officials say among the state’s 103,000 probationers, it’s about 15 percent. Still, offenders can turn down jobs they consider unsuitable, and harvesting is physically demanding.

The first batch of probationers started work last week at a farm owned by Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. In the coming days, more farmers could join the program.

So far, the experiment at Minor’s farm is yielding mixed results. On the first two days, all the probationers quit by mid-afternoon, said Mendez, one of two crew leaders at Minor’s farm.

“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, ‘Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,'” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer. “They just left, took off across the field walking.”

There is something disturbing about the fact that Georgia has driven away one class of people with few rights and then tried to use another class of people with few rights to clean up the mess it made by picking on that first class of people.

Or as Atlanta Mayor Shirley Frankly put it, more directly:

“The suggestion of sending probationers into the fields to solve our self-inflicted economic wound is nothing more than retrogressing to an earlier shameful time in our state’s history of victimizing hundreds of mostly black men and condemning them to near slavery, while the rest of us watch silently,” she wrote. “Now as then, many of the potential victims have poor if any legal representation and few employment opportunities.”

This situation just exposes the exploitative nature of some aspects of our economy. We do rely on people with few rights to do work for us.  It’s a nasty truth we have a hard time admitting.

But the truth is that Georgia relied on the labor of people with very few rights for years and then when it was politically convenient decided to scapegoat them, forgetting (or perhaps not caring) about the economic need that had been established by using these people in the first place.

That said, let me be clear: I wouldn’t argue that the reason Georgia should rethink H.B. 87 is because I want the state to stop exploiting parolees and go back to exploiting immigrants and migrant workers.

Nope, what I’d suggest is economic exploitation of any kind is wrong and that if we’re going to rely on the labor of any group of people, those people should have rights.