Tom Philpott’s recent Mother Jones rant on President Trump’s immigration enforcement policy (Trump’s Crackdown on Immigration Is Terrible News for Anyone Who Eats Food – And it’s particularly bad news for farmers) strains credibility in multiple ways. That includes his wildly inaccurate premise that Georgia lost $103.6 million because our Legislature took action to protect jobs, wages, benefits and services for legal residents. Note to Mother Jones editors: This is a very popular concept in mainstream America.
As a fellow eater and one who was proudly involved in the creation of the 2011 Georgia law, (House Bill 87) that Phillpot cites as yet another reason to ignore our borders and immigration laws, I offer some first-hand reality.
Philpott’s first paragraph starts him down the path of fiction when he tells readers “in the spring of 2011, Georgia’s fruit and vegetable growers faced a crippling drought. But it wasn’t for lack of rain; rather, their supply of farmworkers had dried up almost overnight.”
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The reality is that 2011 brought a historically severe drought in south Georgia’s farmlands and across much of the nation. The New York Times reported it like this:
“COLQUITT, Ga. — The heat and the drought are so bad in this southwest corner of Georgia that hogs can barely eat. Corn, a lucrative crop with a notorious thirst, is burning up in fields. Cotton plants are too weak to punch through soil so dry it might as well be pavement.
“Farmers with the money and equipment to irrigate are running wells dry in the unseasonably early and particularly brutal national drought that some say could rival the Dust Bowl days.
“It’s horrible so far,” said Mike Newberry, a Georgia farmer who is trying to grow cotton, corn and peanuts on a thousand acres. “There is no description for what we’ve been through since we started planting corn in March.”
Our governor declared twenty-two south Georgia farming counties disaster areas because of the drought in 2011. We can’t imagine how Philpott missed this.
It is true that here in “the Peach State” the powerful Ag lobby struggled to blame the 2011 crop losses on HB 87 when they could not kill the legislation in the committee process. The law requires use of the no-cost E-Verify system for most private employers – including growers.
But it is also true that many Georgia growers have the same attitude on field labor and government regulations that their predecessors had in 1859.
Philpott has every right to argue against enforcement of our immigration laws and thereby support open borders. But he should not be allowed to invent his own “facts.”
As he noted, HB 87 did require the Georgia Department of Agriculture to give a report on the law’s impact on farming. That January 2012 report shows that HB 87 had little impact on agriculture. We hope people actually read it — our Agriculture Commissioner is the former head of a big Ag lobby enterprise here.
Actually, reported losses in 2011 totaled $10 million – *or what a math whiz tells me is roughly 0.015 percent of the state’s total agricultural output in 2009. About 1 percent of employers who hired fewer full-time workers blamed HB 87; 54 percent blamed the economy or the weather (7 percent of employers who hired fewer part-time workers blamed HB 87; 40 percent blamed the economy/weather). Thirty-four percent actually hired more workers. Dry stuff, eh?
Philpott does correctly note there is a legal method for the Ag industry to obtain temporary foreign workers when they refuse to pay a wage that draws American workers. It’s called the H2A visa.
In the 2011 committee process on HB 87 in our state Capitol, I watched the growers and their arrogant and well-paid lobbyists plead with legislators to allow them to continue to use the “more flexible” black market labor they have abused for decades. The legal, “H2A workers are too costly” they fearlessly admitted then.
Philpott’s tale of immigration enforcement and plunging food supplies is not new. In 2011, there were caravans of liberal, anti-enforcement “journalists” flocking from glistening Atlanta TV studios to stand in the middle of dusty south Georgia onion and corn fields with drought-withered crops on camera telling us that because of HB 87, E-Verify and immigration enforcement, we would likely never eat a Georgia-grown fruit or vegetable again. Oh, my. Many of us laughed that “crops dying on the vine because of borders” was on the F4 key.
Fast forward: It is also true that in 2012, the value of Georgia agricultural exports topped $3.32 billion, a 26 percent increase from 2011. And that Georgia’s agricultural exports reached an estimated $3 billion in 2013, up from $1.8 billion in 2009. And that since 2011 and passage of HB 87 and our E-Verify law, Georgia has been declared “the No. 1 state in which to do business” three times by the influential Site Selection magazine.
Here in Georgia, where English is an optional language and the Ag industry continues to fight immigration enforcement, six years after HB 87 we still enjoy eating Georgia-grown veggies and fruits. The farmers are grudgingly moving to the legal labor that has always been available though the H2A visa.
President Trump’s immigration enforcement policy is working and Tom Philpott’s howls prove that happy fact.
D.A. King is president of the Dustin Inman Society. He resides in Marietta.