I previously discussed Georgia’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 known as “House Bill 87” and its interaction with federal regulations and their impact on those seeking to immigrate. As complicated an issue as this is, many citizens have difficulty understanding how immigration affects them on a daily basis. Many think that more strict enforcement of immigration laws might ease some economic difficulties — especially those that affect smaller governmental units such as schools and law enforcement as well as quasi-governmental entities such as hospitals. While that may be true in some cases, strict enforcement of current federal regulations will negatively impact many state and local economies. Appling County is no different, and our local economy is already experiencing the ill effects of House Bill 87.
The main industry affected in Georgia and in Appling County by the new law is agriculture. Agriculture also happens to be the largest industry in both Georgia and Appling County. The new law’s intended effect, and the one it actually has achieved locally, is to discourage undocumented immigrants from living and working in Georgia. Local farmers have experienced labor shortages during critical harvest times causing some crops to be harvested inefficiently and in some cases not harvested at all. This unfortunately drives up food prices and these increased costs ultimately trickle down to the consumer. In coming months, many farmers will begin to decide what to produce next year and this decision will be affected by the availability of labor. In many cases, farmers will produce less, knowing they will not have the labor on hand to plant, tend and harvest their crops. This situation also impacts local businesses that sell farm-use products such as seed and fertilizer, farm equipment and diesel fuel; and also impacts lenders which make loans to farmers and depend on them to repay so loans can be made to consumers and home buyers.
House Bill 87 also has many effects beyond the agriculture and agri-business industries. Local businesses can expect to experience a decrease in patronage and sales as a significant number of people leave the area and the State, and farm owners and employees have less money to spend. These small businesses of course employ many local citizens, and declines in business could lead to higher costs for products and services on a local level as well as layoffs.
The construction and hospitality industries will be similarly impacted, but that is outside the scope of this column.
While the General Assembly may have intended this legislation as a measure to stand in the breach where the Federal government has failed or refused to act, and there is no doubt taxpayers need relief from the burden of providing benefits to non-taxpayers, this legislation has many adverse consequences for all Georgians but in particular those living in rural areas. Hopefully, our politicians can come up with another plan - such as an expanded guest worker program or expedited citizenship — which will help taxpayers without damaging the agricultural community.
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