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Ag industry shuns guest worker plan for cheaper labor

POSTED: December 27, 2011 1:00 a.m.

Tom Crawford's recent rehash of the self-inflicted wounds suffered by Georgia's agriculture industry conveniently omitted an important fact.

But he does make note of what the majority of Georgians have known for years: On illegal immigration, like all other crimes, enforcement works. As Crawford sadly notes, HB 87 has caused illegals to flee our state. Which was the intent.

What was not included in Crawford's lamentation was any note of the real solution to use of illegal farm labor.

The U.S. has had a federal guest worker agricultural visa in place since 1986.

The H2A program establishes lawful means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring an unlimited number (no ceiling!) of temporary foreign workers into the United States.

The legal temporary workers must be treated with dignity. Employers must provide decent housing that meets health and safety standards and provide workers compensation insurance to workers.

The wage for H2A workers must be the same as the prevailing wage for U.S. workers.

And there is the rub. Throughout the last legislative session, the lobbyists for the agriculture industry constantly complained that the legal workers provided by the existing H2A guest worker plan were more costly than the black-market labor they have been allowed to use for decades.

They wailed that use of the easy-to-use and accurate, Internet-based E-Verify federal employment verification system mandated for most employers in HB 87 would interfere with hiring cheaper illegal workers.

Now because of HB 87, many farmers are resorting to the legal way to find foreign workers because the wages they pay are not high enough to draw Americans.

Which was the intent of the state law that essentially says we must obey the federal laws on immigration and employment. Oh my!

At more than 1 million each year, the USA takes in more real legal immigrants than any nation on the planet. We should all honor and protect them by insisting on enthusiastic enforcement of our immigration laws.

D.A. King
Marietta



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