Atlanta restaurants blame immigration law for lack of workers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a survey by the Georgia Restaurant Association revealed widespread worker shortages in the state’s $14.1 billion restaurant industry:

Nearly half of the 523 restaurateurs across the state who voluntarily participated in the electronic survey this month are having trouble finding workers, a summary of the survey results shows. That summary, however, doesn’t say how many pinned the labor shortages on Georgia’s new anti-illegal immigration law, also called House Bill 87.

Of the respondents, more than three-quarters are located in the metro Atlanta area. Almost a third of those who took part in the survey gave additional feedback, and 91 percent of them said they were opposed to Georgia’s “immigration reform.”

It’s too early to tell what exactly is causing these shortages. Atlanta’s unemployment rate in May was 9.7 percent (only 0.1 percent lower than what it was the previous year), so there’s no lack of unemployed native-born workers available, in general. However, anecdotal accounts from farmers suggest that replacing immigrant workers with native-born workers isn’t easy; many new workers leave after only a day or two.

Georgia’s new immigration law is phasing in over the course of the next year, although two provisions of the law have been blocked by a federal judge. One provision, criminalizing applying for a job with a false I.D., punished by up to 15 years of jail, is already in effect.

The state is also in the process of setting up a new investigative panel, mandated by the law, which would be empowered to investigate allegations that state and municipal government agencies are failing to enforce immigration laws and creating “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants. The Journal-Constitution quotes an attorney involved in the lawsuit against the state over the immigration law:

“I feel bad for the folks that are going to be targets of this [Sen. Joe] McCarthy-like panel looking for ghosts that don’t exist,” said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-area immigration attorney and a board member with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “This is the witch hunt commission.”

The board is an alternative to a provision in Arizona’s immigration law, which inspired Georgia’s, allowing anyone in the state to sue government officials if they feel they aren’t adequately enforcing immigration law. The panel is empowered to punish agencies by withholding their funding, and can fine individual officials up to $5,000 for knowingly allowing undocumented immigrants to work or avoid sanction.

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