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Georgia cutting funding for farming visa workers

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 4:18 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013

ATLANTA (AP) — After passing a law to crack down on illegal immigration, Georgia may eliminate a program meant to help farmers navigate the complicated process of getting visas for foreign laborers.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's budget plan calls for cutting $150,000 for two liaison positions at the Department of Agriculture. Those employees have served as go-betweens, assisting farmers as they attempted to seek visas for foreign workers through state and federal labor officials.

The pilot program was among the few concessions that Georgia's farmers won after the Republican-controlled state government passed a stringent 2011 law targeting illegal immigrants, including some foreigners used by farmers to harvest labor-intensive crops such as fruits and vegetables.

The law authorizes police to check the immigration status of suspects who lack proper identification and to detain illegal immigrants. Using false information or documentation when applying for a job became a felony offense. By mid-July, every employer — including farmers — with more than 10 employees must use a federal database called E-Verify to make sure new hires are eligible to work in the United States.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black's office proposed the cuts as it trimmed $1 million from its budget, saying the results did not meet desired outcomes. Legislators, who must pass the budget, started their review of agency spending plans this week.

"The solution to this is at the federal level and having a competent easy-to-use guest worker program so people can come and go," Black said. "... When we were prioritizing resources, we simply had to say we're moving on."

Black said his two workers, including one who has already left for a new job, educated farmers about the federal guest worker program and made inquiries when applications from growers stalled in the federal system. But the state government does not run the federal guest worker program.

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