Georgia Republicans recently passed a very harsh anti-immigrant measure into law, successfully driving a lot of undocumented workers out of the state. Republicans who championed the measure said the new law would improve Georgia’s economy.
As Jay Bookman explained, now they’re saying something different.
The resulting manpower shortage has forced state farmers to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.
Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal was forced to order a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.
The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.
The largest industry in the state, and arguably the most important to the state’s economy, suddenly can’t function the way it should. Republicans were warned this might be a problem, but they approved their anti-immigrant proposal anyway, and no doubt felt awfully good about themselves for being “tough” on illegal immigration.
That the state’s economy will suffer as a consequence apparently never occurred to them, despite the warnings from the agricultural industry.
Deal, the freshman far-right governor who was elected despite extensive financial difficulties and failed business ventures, isn’t quite sure what to do now.
The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.
In fact, with a federal court challenge filed last week, you have to wonder whether state officials aren’t secretly hoping to be rescued from this mess by the intervention of a judge. But given how the Georgia law is drafted and how the Supreme Court ruled in a recent case out of Arizona, I don’t think that’s likely.
We’re going to reap what we have sown, even if the farmers can’t.
I often wonder what Republicans would do if they thought through the consequences of their own policies. I’m afraid we’ll never know.