Tough new law scares away migrant workers - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Tough new law scares away migrant workers

A lot of farmers say Georgia's tough new immigration law is scaring away their workforce and costing them big bucks.

Now, they are asking the federal government to help. They want to make it easier for foreign workers to get guest worker visas.

They talked about that issue today at a forum with Congressmen Austin Scott and Jack Kingston.

Gary Paulk, an Ocilla farmer, says his crops have suffered ever since the immigration law went into effect.

"Some blackberries, we estimate the loss to be about $200,000 because couldn't find workers, we needed 300 workers and the most we had at any one time on our register was 200," says Gary Paulk, Ocilla Farmer.

And he is not the only farmer feeling the pain, many other Georgia farmers are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because their crops are rotting in the fields.

Paulk says the law has made the workers hard to come by.

"Other farmers in other states don't have to adhere to, so therefore our workers are going  to those states and leaving us high and dry," says Paulk.

Which is why two Congressmen held a listening session to speak with these farmers about their issues with the law.

"There is a difference in legal immigration and illegal immigration, if you are here illegally, there is no excuse in that," says Rep. Austin Scott,(R) Georgia.

Paulk says when the law went into effect, some of his workers turned their gear in and left the state.

"I have a friend who has a farm in North Carolina, and the farmers up there actually want to send a thank you note to Georgia, for sending them our workers," says Paulk.

He understand that he must comply with the law but thinks it needs adjustments, especially to the H2A program.

Congressman Scott believes farmers should be able to participate in a agriculture visa program that works for the farmer and the immigrant worker .

"We have to have system in place, that will allow migrant workers to come in, comply with U.S. law, pay taxes the same way a United states citizen does, and then at the end of the season, return home," says Scott.

He says he wants to support agriculture, Georgia's biggest industry, and make sure the United states is safe.

"That we have a system that allows our farmers to get their crops in and at the same time  protects our borders of United States," says Scott.

Paulk says farm work takes a certain type of person, he has tried finding domestic workers but realized they do not want the work.

"We applied for 75 jobs and got none with department of labor, with unemployment close to 10% in Georgia, you would people would just be jumping off the porch to get to us, but they are not," says Paulk.

He says in order for this law to be fair to farmers, the Federal Government is going to have to step in.

Georgia's bill excludes small businesses from having to verify the immigration status of their employees.

Copyright 2011 WALB.  All rights reserved.   

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