VIDALIA, Ga. -- An agreement between onion growers and immigration officials is only a short-term solution to the dispute over illegal workers, U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., said Saturday.
But he said he hopes the deal, which would grant temporary amnesty to illegal aliens now harvesting the estimated $90 million crop in 19 south Georgia counties, will kindle change.
"Farmers are relieved for the short term because they aren't left with a perishing crop," Mr. Coverdell said after meeting with growers and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization officials in the town known for its sweet onions. "In the long term, this may have been a catalyst that something has to change."
Mr. Coverdell criticized the INS, saying it use extreme enforcement tactics against growers.
INS officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In return for temporary amnesty, the farmers must obey the so-called guest worker laws. The agreement is expected to be finalized Tuesday in Lyons, six miles east of Vidalia.
"They have never sat down before anywhere in the nation and negotiated any type of a settlement," said Delbert Bland of Glennville, whose farm produces about 20 percent of the Vidalia crop. "I think it's wonderful."
Mr. Coverdell said he learned from a member of the state Labor Department that there is not a domestic work force for harvesting work.
"I told INS that instead of this kind of regime, help us design a program that helps us facilitate a very important agriculture commodity in this state," he said. "These are not gangsters, these are quality Americans."
Tom Fischer, district director for the INS in Atlanta, said Friday that the settlement should help curb illegal activities by labor contractors who hire workers and provide them under contract to farmers.
The growers agreed to identify all contractors in the future who supply them with workers. The growers also agreed to provide workers with clean and safe housing.