COLUMBIA — Some say that South Carolina’s new illegal-immigration law is already putting a chill on the state’s supply of immigrant farm labor.
Gary Spires, the director of the government relations of the S.C. Farm Bureau, said he has been receiving reports that the state’s new so-called Arizona-style illegal-immigration law has had an effect on legal immigrant workers.
Spires said an ornamental grower in Charleston County lost two longtime legal immigrant workers, whom he had assumed would stay with him until they retired, just before the Legislature passed S. 20 and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley signed it into law at the end of June.
“They said ‘we’re going home,’ and that, ‘we’re worried we’ll be getting stopped,’ ” Spires said.
“We started having labor shortages with tomato crop this year and specialty crops like blueberries,” he said.
The law requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of someone who had been arrested for an unrelated reason, if the officer suspects the person is in the country illegally. South Carolina’s law, effective in January, is similar to Georgia’s but requires the creation of a specialized police unit.
The Hispanic population increased 148 percent in the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census. Hispanics make up 5.1 percent of South Carolina and are mostly of Mexican origin.
William Henderson, a Clemson University agent in Edgefield County, said he was not aware of those effects and that its impact might yet to be realized.
“This is a new law and impact may not be seen until next year,” said Henderson. “At any rate, it will require more documentation and tracking to the grower which means higher costs.”
On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled, “America’s Agricultural Labor Crisis: Enacting a Practical Solution.”
Witnesses included Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black; Tom Nassif, the president and CEO of Western Growers in Salinas, Calif.; Robert A. Smith, the senior vice president of Farm Credit East in Cobleskill, N.Y., and Connie Horner, the president of Horner Farms, Inc. of Homerville, Ga., according to materials from U.S. Senate staff.
On Tuesday, The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association released a study that estimates a $391 million loss related to the shortage of agricultural workers. According to the study, 5,244 seasonal harvester jobs were vacant during the 2011 harvest season, the equivalent of 572 full-time jobs.