What might happen when Donald Trump meets a Vidalia onion

We are close to finding out what happens when President Donald Trump meets a hand-harvested Vidalia onion. Or a blueberry bush. Or a field of carrots.

Six years ago, the Legislature passed House Bill 87, an effort aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants in Georgia.

It did just that. And Georgia farmers quickly saw their crops rot in the fields. A University of Georgia study identified a shortage of 5,244 farm laborers and $74.9 million in losses from seven crops.

If you are in this country without the proper papers, you are likely to be even more skittish than you were in 2011. Something is coming, but we don’t know what.

“It’s a military operation,” Trump said a few days ago. No it’s not, his underlings quickly said. Nor do they have mass round-ups and deportations in mind, they assure us.

 


 

And yet Jeff Sessions, our new attorney general, has withdrawn an Obama-era directive that discouraged the use of private prisons, on the grounds that it “impaired the [Bureau of Prison’s] ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

In recent sweeps, Georgia ranked second only to Texas in the number of illegal immigrants with no criminal convictions who have been detained, according to the records released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

If all this uncertainty has an impact on Georgia farming this spring, it is likely to show up first in an onion field. On Tuesday, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black will set the harvest date for Vidalia onions. This usually falls in mid-April, but there’s talk that the warm winter could result in an earlier start.

A certain political etiquette has sprung up around agriculture and illegal immigration. The proper way to discuss the topic is not to discuss it at all.

When we asked Black whether the Trump administration’s new emphasis on illegal immigration was having a labor impact in south Georgia, he sent this reply via a spokeswoman:

“Priority No. 1 is for these jobs to be filled with local citizens. When this is not a viable option, the legal alternative is the current H-2A guest worker program for immigrant labor. I have high hopes that the president and his administration will soon work with the Congress to improve this program’s reputation and reliability for our farmers.”

But others can afford to be more direct. At a recent meeting of the Lowndes County Commission, Sheriff Ashley Paulk discouraged any talk of round-ups of illegal immigrants. “We’ve got a lot of Hispanics working the farms here. (The farms) can’t run without them,” he said, according to The Valdosta Daily Times.

Nor are illegal immigrants a drain, the sheriff said. “They pay sales tax, they pay gas tax. (Federal) is the only tax they don’t pay.”

I called Paulk to make sure he hadn’t been misquoted. He hadn’t. “They’re not cattle. They’re human beings and many of them are good, strong Christian people,” the sheriff said. “You’ve got to prioritize your resources.”

If the feds come to him and ask for help in serving a specific warrant for a specific, violent individual, Paulk said he’d be happy to help. But he didn’t intend to tie up his jail with peaceful people at $50 per person per day.

Paulk, 71, is an unusual creature. He’s a Democrat making a comeback after an unsuccessful stab at retirement. Donald Trump took Lowndes County with 57 percent of the vote last November. So did Paulk, beating the Republican incumbent.

But the sheriff said his position on illegal immigration wasn’t a partisan one, and that neighboring sheriffs agree with him.

In next-door Echols County, carrot capital of the world, Sheriff Randy Courson echoed Paulk.

“We’re not going to go door-to-door and hunt these people down to find their immigration status. The ones that are committing serious crimes, those are the ones I’m sure immigration will end up getting involved with,” said Courson, a Republican. “There are a lot of hard-working, good people that are already here with established families. We’ve got too much other stuff that we need to be doing.”

Illegal moonshiners, for instance. They’re still around in Echols County. Really.

Until he retired from the state Senate last year, Tommie Williams was one of the saner Republican voices on illegal immigration in the Capitol, one who often spoke up against GOP excesses.

He has a pine straw operation in Lyons, Ga., about five miles away from Vidalia and the heart of Georgia’s onion operation. I asked him about the current labor situation in his area.

It can still be a struggle, he said. “Just last week, I brought in 58 H-2B laborers, paying $11 an hour to harvest pine straw.”

However, Williams said, the passage of HB 87 in 2011 taught most big farmers in the area a lesson. “That actually drove a lot of farmers to the visa programs. Because they were depending on what used to be, years ago, migrant labor,” he said.

But a shadow labor force still exists. “There are still some of those folks around. And they may have been here 25 to 30 years, and still not legal. But most farmers that aren’t hobby farmers — they’re using the guest worker programs,” Williams said.

I mentioned the conversations I’d had with sheriffs in Echols and Lowndes counties. Protection of local agriculture might not be their sole aim, Williams suggested.

The former lawmaker offered a translation of what he thought the sheriffs might have meant: “’This is more a federal issue than a county issue. We’re already overloaded, and all of our guys are underpaid, and we don’t need any more conflict.’ I think that’s probably what it is,” Williams said. “This is not like a sanctuary city or San Francisco. These guys are just overworked.”

Williams made a good point. When the Trump deportation operation finally cranks up, we’re likely to see two forms of resistance. One will be based on morality — whether it is right and proper to break up families who have lived on U.S. soil for decades, regardless of their legal status.

Odds are the other form of resistance will be fiscally based. A view — well within the Southern tradition — that if the federal government wants to rid the country of illegal immigrants, then the federal government should be willing to pay for it. You’ll find sheriffs and others arguing that anything short of that is yet another unfunded mandate from Washington.

Do not be surprised if one motivation merges with the other.

Reader Comments 0

122 comments
Don Knight Sr.
Don Knight Sr.

Farmers will use harvesters to gather the crops.

Robert Luszczyk
Robert Luszczyk

If say it does happen, why not send the State prisoners to the fields? Then our tax dollars would have picked our own onions that way?

Earl Merck
Earl Merck

Last time I was in vidalia machines picked them up

Darrell Stevens
Darrell Stevens

I worked as farm labor as a teen. I picked tomatoes, put up hay, and cut tobacco. I worked for $20 a day. What will happen is wages will go up, as well as food cost. Farm owners will just pass on the cost.

Rick Maddox
Rick Maddox

Yep. I can just see the sheriff of Toombs County leading a group of ICE agents on a raid in Vidalia onion country. \U0001f641

Colin Heath
Colin Heath

The farming Industry has the H2A visa program designed to use legal workers, whats the problem...

Minnie Griffin
Minnie Griffin

I've worked in the onion fields topping onions. It's a hard dirty job. Yes most workers are immigrants. They're the only ones that will work for the low pay. It's not hourly pay. No vacation time, no medical.

Jeff Given
Jeff Given

Hold the onions, extra on the 287g

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

The State has millions on the DOLE! Put them to work to earn their checks!

Dennis Carroll
Dennis Carroll

In the 30's and 40's guess who harvested the onions? Not illegal immigrants.

Jackie Lovett
Jackie Lovett

Because locals wanted and needed the work. Now they are lazy.

Darrell Stevens
Darrell Stevens

Calling people lazy for working 50 hrs a week for $7.25 an hour when they can work at mcds for $8.50 an hour for 40 hrs a week. I call it smart.

Dennis Carroll
Dennis Carroll

How about $12 going to $15 in California at McD. However, you are correct, and my point was the work ethics in America has changed since the government hands out freebees.

Shirley Dunlap
Shirley Dunlap

What are y'all even talking about? Are you saying only illegal aliens work in onion fields? If this truly is the case then people deserve not to have onions to put on their table.

Jackie Lovett
Jackie Lovett

Yes, because locals aren't willing to work as hard for the pay.

Matt Peacock
Matt Peacock

Don't worry the farmers will lobby again and make sure Ice doesn't come back around.

Jeri Henson Dies
Jeri Henson Dies

Hopefully Trump will be back at Trump Tower full-time and we won't have to worry about onions or ranting tweets.

John Ted Williams
John Ted Williams

There is an available work force to work the fields. They just tend to be too lazy and work the system. Why work for money when the government will pay them to sit in their section 8 housing?

Jackie Lovett
Jackie Lovett

Lazy white trash. Keep the immigrants to get the job done. Stop this nonsense.

Robert Luszczyk
Robert Luszczyk

If say it does happen, why not send the State prisoners to the fields? Then our tax dollars would have picked our own onions that way?

Bobby Lamb
Bobby Lamb

Agree, but until that is resolved, we will pay higher prices for our food. Good thing our healthcare and taxes will be lower, right? But I wonder how we will pay for the military increase, more law enforcement, and the wall.

Mark Herendeen
Mark Herendeen

I believe people are forgetting the fact that illegal means illegal! become LEGAL simple

Wanda Forrester
Wanda Forrester

Trump picked a Georgia politician as Agricultural Secretary

Fenton Dean
Fenton Dean

For all those that believe everything a Liberal paper says. Migrant farm workers are asked to come here and are documented. Illegals are not. Look it up!

James Elwood Dew Sr.
James Elwood Dew Sr.

THEY are not picking because they are doing other jobs and the ones around here aren't paying taxes they get picked up at home depot and droped back off paid with cash no taxes taken out just saying

Liz Dadin
Liz Dadin

Time for some prisoners to get some exercise and good ole sunshine. Let them earn their keep and they will rest better at night.

Debbie Grant Willis
Debbie Grant Willis

\U0001f648\U0001f64a\U0001f649 the libs say shut up stupid, and do as we say. Status quo is not on the agenda. Let's do things legally.

Tracy Sample
Tracy Sample

yep, just kicking the can down the road.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

Maybe we should be asking, "WHAT IS SONNY PERDUE going to do for Georgians." Even if he's waiting to be cleared by the Senate, surely he has some influence.

Mike McCormack
Mike McCormack

More fake news. Well, when you consider it's the AJC, you knew it had to be.

Becky Streadwick
Becky Streadwick

anyone who works the field needs medical or something..it is a disgrace what chemicals they are exposed to not to mention what we the consumers are exposed to…also if you check most people that are issued visa are not the workers..it is a money racket for sure and america should be ashamed...

Sandra Dale Sikes
Sandra Dale Sikes

Work visas solve the problem of illegal aliens, as long as the holder returns to wherever when the time is up. Allowing illegal aliens to be here because no one else will pick onions/tomatoes is not justifiable......I see adults hanging around day after day, able bodied and healthy. They get welfare so why work? No welfare after a certain time might change this.....

Mike Hausmann
Mike Hausmann

The former president had 8 years including 2 with his own congress and he did NOTHING!!!!!!! It is time to set a new standard and create a means for folks to find a way to come in legally, meanwhile it is time to stop overlooking the broken windows to coin a phrase.

Peggy White
Peggy White

A miagrant worker is different than an illegal immigrant.....they are here legally and then go home.....geezzz people.....

Karen Rogers
Karen Rogers

The crew boss is legal and he or she is the one getting paid by the farmer and then the crew boss pays their workers. The crew boss is going to get their cut first.

Robert Whitaker
Robert Whitaker

You keep saying Trump wants to get rid of all imagration. Listen dumbasses He wants to stop illegal immigrants from coming here. Millions have come here the right way. This people have broken federal laws. How in the hell can you lock up any other person in this country for breaking the law if you will not lock them up or at least deport them

Liz Dadin
Liz Dadin

Bonnie Martin And take more out

Robert Whitaker
Robert Whitaker

You miss the point idiot. They all break the law when they come here illegally or over stay their visas. My point is how do you have the legal right to lock up an American citizen for instance for processing pot when you will not lock these people for breaking our laws

Bonnie Martin
Bonnie Martin

First, many HAVE been deported, and have returned. We have bigger problems to solve: immigration courts, visas and what happens when they expire, all the other ports of entry, for example. It is a gross oversimplification to think that a wall will fix it, and in fact, ignores other issues that need to be addressed. Not to mention the fact that illegals pump billions of dollars into our economy.

Robert Whitaker
Robert Whitaker

And to you Bonnie no one said a wall would fix all the problems. But the illegals are costing billions to educate their children , keep their illegal criminals that have committed crimes here in jail. Give them free health care at our emergency rooms around this country, 100s of millions in food stamps and don't say they don't I see them everyday at stores using them. Stealing people's Social Security numbers and using them. Oh yes that's identity theft isn't is ending billions back to Mexico every year. They have no intention of becoming citizens. They are here to bleed our country of its wealth

Sam Nicholas
Sam Nicholas

I'll just stop supporting locally grown fruits and veggies since these "illegals" are such bad people that farmers in GA want them out of the country until they realized neither rural blacks or whites will pick the food. \U0001f644 The rhetoric sounds great until it's your pockets.

Bonnie Martin
Bonnie Martin

Do you want people to be informed, or not??? Articles like this shouldn't be limited to subscribers only. Shame shame....

Elizabeth Chapman
Elizabeth Chapman

The Answer IS Simple! Do IT LEGALLY! My Brother Brought in Mexicans to harvest his crops for many years... He did it Legally! He dotted every i, and crossed ever t... and did everything according to the book LEGALLY! They came here and worked, were paid the agreed upon salary, and then went home to their family when the season ended, returning the following year. It Worked! All this verbage is simply about the Dollar - saved or spent! Some folks just want to Evade the Hassles of The Law!

Georgia Blue
Georgia Blue

If there were a simple answer, there wouldn't be a problem. The world is full of complex issues and adults who can't be bothered to think past three-word quips. Sad.

Becky Streadwick
Becky Streadwick

well maybe he should give everyone some advice there are people who have been trying even with attorneys and lots of money..it seems to be a dead end street...

Liz Dadin
Liz Dadin

Thank you Elizabeth, You speak the truth. But they will use any excuse they can. You know like don't seperate the families. They sure as heck didn't mind seperating the families to come here.

Elizabeth Chapman
Elizabeth Chapman

Georgia Blue I have many friends who have come here Legally & Paid the Price... some have even become citizens! The ANSWER IS ALWAYS Simple, but NEVER FREE... TOO Many people want FREE & EASY! No cost, No Sacrifice! The Law is too much trouble to be Obeyed for some! Well, my ancestors came here in the 1600's, PAID with their Lives, many of them and those who Survived certainly Sacrificed! They BLED more than 3 word quips, Thank You!

Tamye Riggs
Tamye Riggs

Your ancestors undoubtedly killed, sickened, and stole from many indigenous peoples when they came here illegally. What makes you think they, or you, deserved to be here more than anyone else? Take your legacy of hate back where your thieving kind came from, you selfish old mess.

Elizabeth Chapman
Elizabeth Chapman

Tamye Riggs Fools Rush N Where Angels Fear to Tread, my child. And it might behove you to inventory & research your own spirit of hatred? No One's Ancestors nor selves are without sin or fault, but What One Fights & Dies for is Highly Valued to themselves and their Progeny. You know Nothing of my Ancestors, how they treated anyone, nor even if some might have been Indigenous peoples! They were here legally as there was No Law to the contrary. I Hate Evil and the spirit of Lawlessness... God Commands it. He also commands me to love you... so in The Name of Jesus Christ, I Bless You!

Carla Duffy
Carla Duffy

Very well stated. Because He lives in me I can love even u despite ur hatred.

Carla Duffy
Carla Duffy

Very well stated Elizabeth. Because He lives in me I can love even u Tamye despite ur hatred.

Elizabeth Victoria Casper
Elizabeth Victoria Casper

So, it was actually kind of up to the US citizen helping them, right? So, maybe all these people whining about undocumented immigrants should sponsor them, yeah?

Dianne Birdsong Clark
Dianne Birdsong Clark

Elizabeth Victoria Casper, If they come under the H2A agriculture worker program they are paid more than minimum wage. They are given free housing, government inspected housing, transportation here and return home after contract ends. They are provided transport to and from work.