The Atlantic ran a fascinating story last month about the impact a new harsh, Arizona-style immigration law is having in Georgia, whose economy relies heavily on agriculture (and therefore on the labor of undocumented immigrants). Starting this month, police will be able to check the immigration status of anyone they deem a criminal suspect, leading to a potential wave of deportations. The state also requires employers to verify all workers' immigration status using an electronic system known as E-Verify.

The result, the Atlantic reports, is that undocumented immigrants---who are "nothing if not mobile"---have been avoiding the state and its $11 billion agricultural industry, prompting the state's Republican governor, Nathan Deal, to offer the vacant farm jobs to unemployed felons on probation. So far, the system---which the magazine compares to the post-slavery practice of arresting African-American citizens on trumped-up charges and leasing them out as farm laborers---isn't working so well. In fact, farmers in the state could lose $300 million in crops; in some places, crops have already rotted in fields and been plowed under.
One crew of felons who went to work for Dick Minor, a farmer and the president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, all quit by mid-afternoon on their first day in the fields. On another farm, a group of experienced Hispanic workers filled six trucks full of cucumbers in a day; a similarly sized group of probationers working on the same farm managed to pick only one truckload. As an acquaintance of mine who has harvested Georgia melons for several years told me last week, "This isn't dummy's work. It takes experience, skill, and knowledge about what your body can handle today if you are going to be in any shape to work again tomorrow."

Here in Washington State---where the $35 billion food and agriculture industry makes up 11 percent of the state economy---growers are getting nervous about a proposal from Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith that would mandate the use of E-Verify by all employers. The legislation would likely cripple the state's farms, where, according to the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, an estimated 80 percent  of all workers are undocumented immigrants.
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