A failed 
experiment

Three months ago, Georgia Republicans proudly passed House Bill 87, an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill that, among other things, requires employers to use E-Verify to confirm the legal status of their employees.

Today, Georgia farmers (most of whom voted for those Republicans) are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars of crops rotting in the fields, unable to find the manpower to do the grueling work of harvesting in 100-plus-degree weather. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has even pushed unemployed criminal probationers out into the fields to little effect: The work is just too difficult. 

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“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, ‘Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,’ ” one probationer told The Washington Post. Early reports suggest that just half of probationers even bothered showing up a second day. Farmers aren’t happy either. “The plan to put probationers on farms ain’t gonna work,” a farmer told the Gainesville Times. “I want to be a farmer; I don’t want to be a warden.” Even under the best-case scenario, the 2,000 unemployed probationers in south Georgia are just a fraction of the (at least) 11,000 farmhands who have disappeared from Georgia fields, according to the state’s agriculture commissioner.

Those rotting crops don’t just represent a blow to Georgia’s economy, particularly in economically fragile rural communities, but will also show up in marketplace prices, hitting consumers with higher food prices. Given the clear failure of this approach to immigration policy, how do national Republicans respond? 

Well, if you’re Rep. Lamar Smith, you spread Georgia’s nightmare to the rest of the country. “Although the bill is a jobs killer for illegal immigrants, the Legal Workforce Act opens up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans and legal workers,” the Texas Republican wrote in The Hill, justifying his effort to mandate E-Verify nationally. “Seven million individuals work illegally in the United States. These jobs should go to legal workers.”

Georgia proves the math isn’t that simple. If Georgians won’t do this backbreaking work in Georgia, does Smith think an unemployed autoworker in Detroit will pack up his family and move to Salinas, Calif., to pick lettuce for minimum wage, no benefits and inhuman working conditions? Smith should leave social engineering on this grand scale to failed communist regimes.

The agricultural industry is certainly terrified. “If we were to use E-Verify now, we’d shut down — either that or farmers would go to prison,” a Fresno-based citrus farmer told The Associated Press. “We’ve admitted many workers are not legal and if you have to get rid of everybody, where do I go to get my labor? Nowhere. We have to have a workforce that we can put in the system.”

The punch line is that E-Verify doesn’t even work. According to a study for the Department of Homeland Security, the system failed to catch 54 percent of unauthorized workers. Why? Because “since the inception of E-Verify it has been clear that many unauthorized workers obtain employment by committing identity fraud that cannot be detected by E-Verify.” In other words, farmers would have a better chance of identifying ineligible workers by flipping a coin.

In a sane world, Georgia’s failed experiment would bring Smith around to considering better options, like a comprehensive immigration reform package that actually provides real solutions to real problems. But ideology trumps reality in today’s Republican Party, leaving sanity in short supply.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos.