Kendall Hill is co-owner and president of Tull Hill Farms, one of North Carolina’s longest running, largest and most successful vegetable crop farming operations.

The biggest risk to operations like his, Hill says, is the availability and affordability of labor.

“I’m 72 years old. I can’t work in the fields, and I can’t find local people willing to work — I have to depend on migrant labor,” Hill says.

Tull Hill Farms is a model for how H-2A labor should work. Workers at the farm have heated, air-conditioned living quarters, complete with Dish Network TV. Their travel costs to and from their home country are paid and they are guaranteed at least minimum wage.

By diversifying his farming operation Hill has been able to spread out the cost of his H-2A workers, but most growers don’t have the opportunity of land and processing facilities to do that. Many growers, even larger acreage growers, are in the ‘no-man’s land’ of legal, but not affordable H-2A labor and the high risk of working illegal migrant workers.

Changes in migrant labor laws in the Deep South are making the labor situation much worse and are crippling the growth of what should be burgeoning fruit and vegetable industries in the Carolinas and Virginia.

“What too many politicians and people in the general public don’t seem to understand is that these migrant workers aren’t taking jobs from American citizens. I’d love to hire local labor, but they simply aren’t available.

“The migrant laborer who comes to work on our farm doesn’t pay taxes, but doesn’t utilize tax-paid services either. But most importantly, what too many people don’t seem to understand is that these migrant workers allow folks like me to stay in business and pay taxes.

“Farms are small businesses and that’s what every politician seems to think we need more of in this country, but they are making it real hard for farm businesses to stay in business and pay taxes,” Hill says.

Everyone wants a viable visitor worker program, but nobody seems to know what that is, the North Carolina farmer says.

“We want the same migrant crews to come to our farm every year and we do everything we can to treat them well and pay them well, so they’ll come back next year. I can’t imagine any farmer who wants to stay in business very long would do anything other than take good care of his or her labor force,” Hill says.

Though each state has different laws for migrant workers, changes in one state can have a devastating effect on others. Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, with some of the strictest migrant labor laws in the nation are pass-through states for workers moving eastward from Mexico and Central America.

Rather than travel through these states and risk legal problems, many simply take another route to find plentiful farm labor jobs in other regions.

And, it’s not just farm jobs that are affected. In Alabama, a prominent auto manufacturer fell victim of the state’s harsh migrant worker laws for employing a mid-level manager from Korea, who didn’t have the proper paperwork.

Georgia’s version of the Arizona-like migrant labor law is HB 87, which requires that certain employers check their new workers’ immigration status and gives law enforcement officers more leeway to check a suspect’s immigration status.