When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was governor of Georgia, he enacted one of the harshest immigration laws in the nation.

The crackdown on undocumented immigrants worked so well to drive them from the state that Georgia farmers had nobody to pick their crops come harvest. Fruits and vegetables rotted in fields and farmers lost millions.

But on his first visit to California since joining the Trump administration, Perdue indicated a different approach to immigration.

In meetings with Central Valley congressmen and farmers, Perdue heard about growing difficulties finding enough workers to harvest crops. He said part of the answer is a new guestworker program, but that’s not enough.

Perdue pointed to Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) Agricultural Guestworker Act, saying, “It really doesn’t address the real needs of California farmers because many of these undocumented workers have been here for years and they’ve become part of the operation, sometimes farm managers, and they don’t really have a home to go back to right now.”

Under Perdue’s leadership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking part in a task force working on rural issues, including immigration policies that affect agriculture.

“We have to address this transition area at some point,” he said. “Not that they want citizenship necessarily; they want legal status.”

Perdue also had some words of comfort for farmers worried about President Trump’s threats to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA.

“I think there may be some bumpy anxious moments in between, but I believe the president is absolutely committed to getting the best NAFTA deal for the United States as well as our other trade partners.”

Perdue held a town hall in Modesto on Sunday and met with Democratic Reps. Jimmy Panetta and Jim Costa. On Monday, he sat down with Republican Rep. David Valadao and a small group of farmers in the town of Arvin, south of Bakersfield.

Ag Secretary Shows a Softer Side on Immigration in Talks With California Farmers 8 November,2017Vanessa Rancano

  • D.a. King

    A response to “Ag Secretary Shows a Softer Side on Immigration in Talks With California Farmers” from KQED California

    Sigh. It is true that here in Georgia we enacted a tough law (SB529) on the crime of illegal immigration in 2006. And it is true that Sonny Perdue was governor.

    It is, however, pre-fab, knee-jerk fiction that “the crackdown on undocumented immigrants worked so well to drive them from the state that Georgia farmers had nobody to pick their crops come harvest. Fruits and vegetables rotted in fields and farmers lost millions.”

    The reporter has gotten her anti-enforcement talking points confused with the equally false point used by the media to attack the 2011 E-Verify law put in place in the Peach State.

    As “proof” of the amusing but false “rotting in the fields” result of state action on illegal employment in 2006, she has linked to an equally untrue news story from 2011. Sonny Perdue was not governor then. Her error can be forgiven, considering the endless media prattle that without black market labor, America will either starve or see our farm production moved to Mexico.

    The problem with Georgia’s crops in 2011 was not a threat of immigration enforcement. It was a devastating drought that we all could see and feel but somehow didn’t make it into most Georgia reporter’s coverage of the illegal immigration law and its effects.

    As we said in July, the New York Times covered it like this:

    “COLQUITT, Ga. — The heat and the drought are so bad in this southwest corner of Georgia that hogs can barely eat. Corn, a lucrative crop with a notorious thirst, is burning up in fields. Cotton plants are too weak to punch through soil so dry it might as well be pavement.

    “Farmers with the money and equipment to irrigate are running wells dry in the unseasonably early and particularly brutal national drought that some say could rival the Dust Bowl days.

    “It’s horrible so far,” said Mike Newberry, a Georgia farmer who is trying to grow cotton, corn and peanuts on a thousand acres. “There is no description for what we’ve been through since we started planting corn in March.”

    As someone who participated in passing of both the 2006 and 2011 laws, this pro-enforcement American watched as the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Big Ag et al mounted a frenzied opposition operation to both bills. I watched and shook my head when the Chamber lobbyist told a House committee that the error rate of E-Verify was “50 percent all the way up to 80 percent” – with a straight face. As NRO reported at the time, “the Georgia Agribusiness Council complained in committee that the H-2A farmworker program was just too darn expensive: “The H2A is very good if you can afford it…the H2A visa is a Cadillac system — and not everyone can afford a Cadillac.”

    When he was governor, Sonny Perdue was as enthusiastic about immigration enforcement as re-election demanded. During his tenure, we found the Mexican government using state buildings and property to process applications for matricua consular IDs.

    The American agriculture industry long ago made the decision not to offer wages that will draw many Americans to farm labor. The goal now is to alter and expand the existing H2A visa process that allows growers to use an unlimited number of legal, temporary foreign farm workers with howls that echo the absurd “rotting in the fields” concept that Americans cannot produce their own food without a repeat of the failed amnesty of 1986.

    Nobody should be surprised that Sonny Perdue is leading the amnesty charge.


Vanessa Rancano

Vanessa Rancano is the Central Valley reporter for The California Report. Before joining KQED she was an NPR Kroc Fellow and a California Endowment Fellow with Latino USA. She’s a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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