Governor Deal Suggests Probationers Fill Farm Jobs

Atlanta (WAOK)-Georgia’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration takes effect on July 1, but it’s effect is already being felt by state farmers. 

Area farmers had already complained of a shortage in the labor force to pick fruits and vegetables, but now that shortage is being realized as a recent survey has revealed that the farming industry has close to 12,000 positions to fill. Farmers charge that the new immigration enforcement law is to blame causing several thousand migrant workers to leave Georgia.

What is left in their wake? Unpicked fruits and vegetables that could cost some farmers thousands of dollars in lost crop costs.

Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a partial solution to the shortage in manpower: hiring people on criminal probation. Gov. Deal said in a statement Tuesday that he had asked the state’s agriculture and corrections commissioners to connect unemployed probationers with farm jobs.

According to the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, last month growers reported they were getting only 30% to 50% of the workers they needed. Deal said about 25% of the 8,000 probationers in southwest Georgia are unemployed. Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said he has been in contact with Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black. Hall said it’s possible state officials could hold job fairs to steer some of Georgia’s unemployed workers to these farm jobs, which pay $12.50 an hour on average.

This week, several farms are scheduled to begin pilot programs to test out Deal’s proposal of hiring people who are on probation. But some growers say they’re concerned that workers who are on probation won’t be reliable or could put their farms at risk. Some farmers have said explicitly that they don’t want people who have been incarcerated working on their farms or being near their children.

The immigration enforcement law, HB87, allows police to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations and asserts that workers convicted of using fake identification to get jobs could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000. Georgia’s agricultural industry vigorously opposed HB 87 in the Legislature, arguing it could scare away migrant workers and damage the state’s economy.

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