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Farmers Resent New Immigration Law, Expect No Problem With Sanitation Rules

June 8, 1987

CHULA, Ga. (AP) _ Many farmers who rely on migrant crop pickers say they are more concerned about new penalties for hiring illegal aliens than about recently mandated federal field sanitation standards.

Under rules that took effect this month, farmers must provide field hands with drinking water, either from fountains or disposable cups. Beginning July 30, they will have to provide toilets and hand-washing facilities.

″That’s no problem,″ said Janis Roberson, who assists her husband, Wendell, in growing vegetables on a farm near this small south Georgia town.

Like many Georgia farmers, the Robersons already provide drinking water in coolers that are hauled to the fields on trucks. Their farm employs up to 100 migrants, who pick and pack vegetables such as collard greens and snap beans for shipment to supermarkets in Georgia and other states, she said.

″These are human beings. They do a good job for us. We’re not going to treat them like animals,″ said Mrs. Roberson.

Growers contacted by The Associated Press said they plan to rent portable toilets and haul tanks of water into fields for hand-washing. Labor Secretary William E. Brock ordered the field sanitation standards this spring to protect the health of about 500,000 workers, many of whom are exposed to pesticides.

Migrant labor and Hispanic groups had waged a 15-year struggle for the regulations, which the American Farm Bureau Federation opposed as costly and impractical. The growers’ group said most workers would not use the facilities.

Unlike the sanitation rules, the new immigration law is causing farmers to voice considerable distress.

Originally, the law would have required employers to verify the legal status of workers starting June 1. That deadline, however, has been pushed back to July 1 because of a delay in distributing forms.

Employers who fail to comply face civil and criminal penalties, including fines up to $10,000 for each illegal alien hired and jail terms up to six months.

The law offers amnesty to illegal aliens who can document that they have lived in the United States continuously since Jan. 1, 1982.

Also, illegal aliens who performed certain seasonal agricultural services for at least 90 days between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986, can become legal temporary residents and eventually apply for citizenship.

Rudy Underwood, legislative director of the Georgia Farm Bureau, said the U.S. Agriculture Department still has not decided what crops to include in the temporary residence program.

″It’s a mess for the farmer,″ he said. ″They’re afraid to hire.″

Heck Dodson, who employs 250 to 300 migrants harvesting vegetables on a farm in Ty Ty, said compliance will be difficult and time-consuming.

Dodson said he certified all of his employees this spring. ″But I’ve just about got to the point where I feel like shutting the doors,″ he added.

Mrs. Roberson said she was able to qualify only 20 of her farm’s employees, despite repeated phone calls and letters to Mexico requesting documents such as birth certificates.

Dodson said many growers resent having responsibility for certifying workers, and feel it would be unnecessary if the federal government had guarded the nation’s borders.

″The bureaucrats in Washington are putting the burden on us,″ he said. ″They’re asking us to do something they couldn’t do. We don’t want to cross swords with anyone, but it’s getting to the point where it’s pretty frustrating.″

Most of the estimated 40,000 seasonal and migrant workers who work in Georgia are recruited by contractors to harvest blueberries, vegetables, Vidalia onions, peaches, apples and tobacco. After leaving Georgia, they move with the harvest season, traveling through North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan and other states.

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