BUSINESS
10/05/2011 11:31 am ET | Updated Dec 05, 2011

Georgia Immigration Law Could Have Dire Consequences For State's Economy: Study

A Georgia law that penalizes anyone harboring undocumented immigrants and allows police to check the immigration status of anyone they believe to be in the country illegally could cost the state $800 million in lost farm value, a report finds.

The law, known as H.B. 87 and passed in April, is pushing illegal immigrants to seek work in other states instead of coming to Georgia, where the agricultural industry relies on migrant workers to harvest their crops, a report from the Center for American Progress finds. Early state reports estimate the losses for the 2011 growing season due to the law to be between $300 and $1 billion.

The report estimates that if Georgia farms were forced to install mechanized labor to replace that migrant labor scared away by the law, it would cost the average small farm $1.2 million per year -- a sum that could put most farms out of business -- or $800 million total.

But the losses wouldn’t be limited to the state’s agricultural sector. The Center for American Progress estimates that every agricultural job in Georgia supports three other jobs. In addition, by leaving peach, berry, onion and other crops unharvested, the U.S. would be forced to import more of those products.

The Georgie Agricultural Commissioner, Gary Black, testified in front of Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, about the Georgia law on Tuesday, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Black advocated that the federal government adopt a guest worker program to address Georgia’s labor shortage.

"E-Verify is a real problem without fixing a guest worker program," The Journal-Constitution reported Black said.

The new Georgia law expands the requirement for employers to use the E-verify system, a federal database that tracks residents’ immigration statuses, according to the Center for American Progress.

Augmented use of E-verify has had economic consequences for other states. In Arizona, business owners are often forced to devote resources to use the system to check employees’ immigration status instead of focusing on production, according to Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

An Alabama judge’s ruling earlier this week that put in place what supporters are touting as “the strongest immigration law in the country” could also have dire economic consequences for the state, critics say.

Research firm, the Perryman Group, estimates that removing all documented workers from Alabama would cost the state $1.1 billion in gross product. Farmers, contractors and home builders in the state say the law has created labor shortages, similar to those in Georgia, according to The New York Times.

Tough immigration laws have also had some more prominent critics. New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg called anti-immigration policies “national suicide” last month because they encourage skilled workers to look elsewhere for jobs, the AFP reported.