Rotten to the core: Georgia’s enforcement-only policy


Those who crafted HB 116 did so with their eyes wide open to the realities of the complex immigration issue. Yes, the federal government needs to fix its terribly flawed immigration policy. Yes, illegal immigrants living in Utah broke the law. No, Utah cannot deport them. No, the federal government will not deport the vast majority of them. Yes, illegal immigrants work jobs that Utahns won’t. Yes, Utah employers try to hire Utahns. No, the vast majority of Utahns won’t work those jobs.

News out of Georgia (well, it’s not really news because everyone knew it would happen) is that the state, which just passed an enforcement-only bill, is losing millions of dollars from crops rotting in the fields where illegal immigrants used to work. Now state officials are scrambling to save Georgia’s “number one economic engine.” American citizens may very well lose their livelihoods.

The blame for this situation, ultimately, sits squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. The feds know certain American industries need immigrant labor. The quasi-open border allows for workers to come, but they must come illegally because the federal government lacks the spine to create a system that really works.

The collateral damage is far-reaching: It affects American business owners who employ illegal immigrants; it affects American businesses bolstered by illegal immigrants’ spending; it affects Americans whose identities are stolen by undocumented immigrants because our government, which lets them come, won’t give them a legal immigration channel that deals in the realities of the needs of the free market; and it affects real humans (also called illegal aliens) and their families who, by and large, are simply trying to earn a living in a country that needs their labor but won’t give them a legal way to provide it. Requiring immigrants, from anywhere in the world, to wait 10 to 20 years to immigrate is not a viable system that meets our real-world market needs.

Is it a surprise to anyone that, while the federal government does nothing substantive, states are tackling the problem? For good or ill, the results of state action are very real. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It’s hard to envision a way out of this. Georgia farmers could try to solve the manpower shortage by offering higher wages, but that would create an entirely different set of problems. If they raise wages by a third to a half, which is probably what it would take, they would drive up their operating costs and put themselves at a severe price disadvantage against competitors in states without such tough immigration laws. That’s one of the major disadvantages of trying to implement immigration reform state by state, rather than all at once.

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.