In its latest legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly passed one of the toughest immigration laws in the country, and many in agriculture have been concerned about the effects on an industry that has become increasingly dependent on migrant labor.

According to officials with the Georgia Farm Bureau, farmers are concerned not so much for what the bill actually does, but for what it might do in the future.

The bill includes provisions that prohibit business expense deductibility of labor costs for workers who cannot provide acceptable documents.

Farmers who depend on migrant labor are concerned that legal farm workers may decide to forego working in Georgia and instead go to neighboring states that don’t have similar laws.

Most state farm groups, including the Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Agribusiness Council, have stated that the immigration issue should be handled at the national level by the federal government. But President Bush and Congress have yet to reach a compromise on such legislation.

In addition to penalizing those who hire undocumented workers, the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act also makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get access to social services. Most of the provisions of the new law will not go into effect until 2007 and 2008.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council, working with Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office, has provided this summary of what the bill does and does not include:

1) The bill does not penalize farmers and employers who utilize laborers from properly documented labor crew leaders. The crew leader is responsible for verifying the status of his or her employees.

2) The bill does not include the proposed 5-percent tax on money wired out of the country by those without “adequate proof of United States citizenship.”

3) Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, undocumented non-employee compensation may not be used as an allowable business expense. The bill requires that businesses paying non-employee wages of more than $600 a year to individuals (thus issuing a 1099 form) may not claim those wages as an allowable business expense unless a form of identification, such as a Georgia driver’s license or other acceptable form of ID has been provided. This applies only to workers utilized after Jan. 1, 2008. It also allows Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) to promulgate rules and regulations.

4) Beginning July 1, 2007, the bill requires 6-percent state withholding tax for 1099 employees who cannot provide a taxpayer ID number, who provide an incorrect taxpayer ID number, or who provide a non-resident taxpayer ID number. This is similar to a federal requirement.

5) Beginning July 1, 2007, it requires citizenship verification of state employees and employers with state contracts and subcontracts. This includes contracts for state agencies, departments and instrumentalities of the state and contracts and subcontracts to use the federal BASIC Pilot program for newly hired employees to verify lawful employment in the United States. The employer must perform employment post-hiring check. This provision is to be implemented in stages: effective July 1,2007, for employers with 500-plus employees; effective July 1, 2008, for employers with 100-plus employees; and July 1,2009 for employers with less than 100 employees.

6) Beginning July 1, 2007, citizenship verification is required for individuals over the age of 18 using Georgia’s public services to ensure they are legally eligible to receive those services. This requires that entities verify legal U.S. residence for local, state or federal benefits administered by a state agency or a political subdivision of the state where residence is a requirement and where the individual requesting benefits is older than age 18. It exempts prenatal and emergency care (same exemptions as federal exemptions for residence verification). All individuals receiving state benefits are required to sign one of two affidavits, either stating the individual is a U.S. citizen or a legal alien. All “legal alien” affidavits must be checked in the federal SAVE program database to verify lawful eligibility for public benefits.

7) Beginning July 1, 2007, the bill gives Georgia law enforcement the authority to crack down on human trafficking and requires jail personnel to check the legal status of those who are charged with a felony or DUI and notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (lCE) if the individual is not legally in the United States. This practice already is occurring in Georgia’s state prison system.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com