Last year, after Hispanic farm workers fled the state because of a far-reaching anti-immigrant bill the Georgia legislature passed, Gov. Nathan Deal (R) suggested replacing them with inmates. The plan only had mixed success, with many inmates walking off the job early, and farmers still lost millions because of crops that rotted in the field before they could be harvested.
Ahead of this year’s Vidalia onion harvest, farmers are still seeing a shortage of workers a year later because of Georgia’s immigration law, so state officials are again sending inmates to help farmers despite the failure of last year’s plan:
The Corrections department has sent ten transitional inmates from Smith State Prison to work in a packing and grading facility run by an onion grower in Glennville, which is near Vidalia. Transitional inmates are in the process of completing their prison sentences.
Grower Wayne Durrance says he’s used transitional inmates, and says it’s been a success so far. Durrance says they’re motivated and work hard.
At best, however, this is a patch over a larger problem created by Georgia’s immigration law. State lawmakers approved a harmful immigration law that drove workers out of the state without having a plan in place to replace them. Now, as farmers report difficulties bringing in Hispanic workers through the guest worker visa program and other problems retaining workers, farmers are again on track to lose millions in unharvested crops because of the lawmakers’ failed policy.