Parole on the Farm

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/2941026321/">Alan Lomax</a>/Flickr

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Remember when Stephen Colbert was one of 16 Americans to accept the United Farm Worker’s “Take Our Jobs” challenge back in 2010? Testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Security, Colbert championed the plight of the migrant worker and poked holes in the argument that immigrants steal jobs:

“The invisible hand of the market has moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico and shut down over a million acres of US farm land due to lack of available labor. Because apparently, even the invisble hand doesn’t want to pick beans.”

So much for poignant pathos. A recent survey conducted by the Georgia Agriculture Department discovered that despite the heavy reliance on migrant labor, there are still thousands of farm jobs available in the state: 230 producers reported that they need to fill 11,080 jobs this year. The glut of agro jobs in Georgia may have something to do with the anti-immigration bill, HB 87, that passed the state senate earlier this year. An Arizona-esque crackdown on the migrant workforce, the bill makes harboring illegal immigrants a crime and requires employers to check the immigration status of their new hires on a federal database called E-Verify.

The measure makes both farmers and workers skittish, threatening Georgia’s $65 billion annual agriculture industry and pushing migrant workers out of their own job market. To quell fears and bring workers back to the field, Governor Nathan Deal presented this solution: send parolees to the farm. According to the MRDC, a nonprofit education and social policy research organization, more than 700,000 people are released from state prisons each year. Lacking a high school diploma, the requisite skills, or denied because of their rap sheet, 25% of parolees in Georgia are unemployed. That’s an 8,000-strong labor force ready and able to pitch in.

While some food stands and construction companies have been willing to hiring ex-cons, other growers are wary that their hires will resort to old bad habits. Roscoe Hutcheson, a blackberry farmer, has three children and doesn’t want former convicts working on his farm. As he quipped to CNN, “I don’t want bad people around my young’n’s.” Despite the pushback, Governor Deal’s new proposal will roll out pilot programs to connect ex-cons with labor-needy farms, an opportunity for parolees to hone a skill and reinvigorate Georgia’s integral agriculture sector.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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