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Some migrant workers could vanish with new Ga. immigration law

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, May 28, 2011

KEYSVILLE, Ga.---Miller Etterle has been selling fruits and vegetables out of the back of his old pick-up truck for more than 20 years. He runs his farm in Keysville. When it's time to harvest, he does it all by himself.

"You got to get it. You got to get it out of the field or you've lost it," Etterle told News 12.

And when crops die in the field, that's money down the drain for a farmer. He says that's why larger farms depend on lots of labor. A lot of those workers are migrant workers, and some of them are illegal aliens.

"They come in bus-loads. That bus-load is going to pick you a thousand bushels of beans in one day," Etterle said.

News 12 asked Etterle his opinion of how much a typical American worker can pick in that same time frame.

"You might get a hundred out of them," he said.

With Georgia's new immigration bill, some farmers fear that illegal migrant workers may leave Georgia behind for safer states.

"If a worker has a choice, they may bypass Georgia and not even come here, and that is a concern," said Lee Webster.

Webster is a farmer in Waynesboro, Georgia, and works for the Farm Bureau there. Even though he doesn't hire illegal workers, some people do. He says it's a reality in the agricultural industry.

"The migrant workforce are the people who have been most dependable and able to come in as needed," he told News 12.

Webster says if the workers do leave Georgia behind, everyone will be able to feel their absence.

"It will ultimately--it will cost the consumer more at the grocery store," he said.

Governor Nathan Deal sent a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. He wants Black to survey farmers about the impact this law could have and how it has affected them thus far.

That law takes effect July 1st. The Georgia Fruits and Vegetable Growers Association says about $300 million worth of crops could be at risk.

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