The arrest of several undocumented workers at a Colorado dairy farm almost two weeks ago and similar events in recent years has brought the issue of labor to the forefront in the dairy industry. Politicians have also been paying attention to the issue of undocumented workers and immigration reform, and related legislation is being pushed in many states including Arizona, Utah, and Georgia.
Increasingly, dairy farms are relying on labor from Hispanic workers. According to the Wall Street Journal farming (including dairy farming) is the largest employer of undocumented workers. Not that all workers on dairy farms are undocumented, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed. Many farmers quoted in recent articles about immigration said that they would not be able to produce a product (whether milk, fruit, or vegetables) without their Hispanic work force.
Georgia's immigration reform law is set to go into effect July 1st. It allows police to ask immigration status when questioning suspects in criminal investigations, and those found with fake identification could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000. On Tuesday, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia offered a solution to Georgia's labor shortage; there are 11,000 positions currently open on Georgia farms before the law goes into effect. His suggestion was to employ some of the state's 8,000 citizens that are on probation. About 25 percent are currently unemployed. Some farms are testing a pilot program hiring probationers, while others don't want to touch it, especially those with children.
This is by no means a solution to the labor issue faced by the agricultural industry, but immigration reform laws and other matters affecting the work force that makes this industry go cannot be ignored.
For more information about Georgia and the probation option, click here to read the article.