June 3-- Georgia's new immigration law takes effect July 1st and Vidalia Onion farmers are concerned about the impact it may have on harvesting the multi-million dollar crop next year.
Toombs County farmer R.T. Stanley hires about 300 people each onion season. Virtually all of them are migrant farm workers. Stanley says they're essential because, unlike previous generations, most Americans won't work in the fields.
"I picked cotton by hand and things like that and it was just as hard back then as it is now, but our country has got to the point that nobody wants to do hard manual labor. I can understand it if they can do something else, but if you don't have a job and want to work, you have to do what you can to make a living. That's what these migrant workers are doing. They're trying to put groceries on the table any way they can so they get out there and do the work even though it is hard," he says.
Stanley says he shares the general public's concern about illegal immigrants, but "I'm between a rock and a hard place on this. All I would like to do is get to where I could have a legal workforce without having a lot of problems. I don't mind paying whatever it takes to get my crop harvested on a timely basis."
The best answer according to Stanley is to make the current federal guest-worker program user friendly. Right now it's too bureaucratic, he says. "There's just too much red tape involved and it's more expensive than getting local people. We'd love to have local people to do it, but there's no way to get local people to do that kind of work," Stanley reports.
This year's Vidalia onion crop is good, Stanley says, but prices are down and production costs are up. Last year was a better year in terms of profit, he says.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has announced it intends to challenge Georgia's new immigration law in court.