Last week, Sen. David Perdue sponsored the RAISE act, a bill to reduce the number of immigrants into the United States by half over the next decade. In his speech introducing the bill at the White House, Perdue showed that he understands neither the needs of Georgians nor the real effects of immigration on our state. Immigrants benefit our state, and Georgia deserves a senator who does the same.
Crucial industries in our state and across the country are being throttled by a serious shortage of laborers. The RAISE act makes the problem even worse, keeping out the only workers that are sure to boost our state’s growth.
Perdue doesn’t understand the labor needs of Georgia businesses. In Atlanta and around the state, construction workers are nowhere to be found. According to a report from WSB-TV, the labor shortage makes it impossible to complete building projects on time, if at all.
The drought of seasonal workers is also pummeling the state’s hard-working farmers. Researchers at the University of Georgia studied the labor shortage of 2011 and found it cost the state $103.6 million in that year alone. Immigrants often go into construction, agriculture and service industries. Without them, these industries might not be able to survive.
Perdue should be thinking of our farmers and builders first. In fact, he was looking out for them only a year ago when he signed a letter to the Labor Secretary to expedite a migrant worker backlog: “The backlog has placed Georgia’s fruit and vegetable industry, as well as our state’s rural communities in jeopardy.”
Perdue was right last year about the importance of workers for our state. But in the year since, nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric has surged in popularity, making for a more attractive political stance. Maybe Perdue should listen to his own advice instead of pandering to the Steve Bannon crowd.
In his White House speech announcing his sponsorship of the bill, Perdue stated that “right now, only one out of 15 immigrants who come into our country come in with skills that are employable.” In his speech, the Georgia senator also stated that “our current system makes it virtually impossible” for immigrants to “work and make a better life for themselves.”
Yet he’s also concerned about immigrants “stealing” jobs from natural-born citizens. How is it possible that immigrants have no employable skills, yet keep stealing American jobs? Perdue’s office never responded to requests for comment on this question.
In reality, immigrants do, in fact, have employable skills and do not steal American jobs. According to the Migration Policy Institute’s research, 48 percent of immigrants this decade have a college degree. A study in Arizona showed that keeping immigrants out lowers low-skilled employment. And a 2015 study of Georgia counties showed that more immigration actually significantly raises wages for low-skilled workers. Perdue’s speech holds many contradictions that don’t hold up under the weight of the facts.
Perdue said on Tuesday that there is a “disconnection between the establishment in Washington and people back home.” He’s right, but he’s part of that disconnect. The reality is that our state needs immigrants more than ever — with a thriving economy, Georgia needs lower-skilled immigrants to fill the gaps so our buildings go up and our crops don’t rot in the fields.
Perdue should listen to his own advice from a year ago, and put the needs of our state first, instead of sponsoring bills that promote fear instead of facts and growth.
Noah Weinrich is a resident of Athens. He is a Young Voices advocate and a senior at Hillsdale College.