Addressing undocumented workers

Terry Richards | The Valdosta Daily TimesJuan Pablo, a South Georgia farmworker and DACA 'dreamer,' supports stronger border controls and immigration laws. 

VALDOSTA — Juan Pablo has been doing farm work in South Georgia for more than 20 years. The 35-year-old came to the United States in 1999 at the age of 15. A DACA recipient — Pablo is protected from deportation under the Obama-era program that gives protection to immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as minors.

Pablo, a longtime migrant worker himself, said he believes the country does need stronger border security.

"Something has to be done about the border," he said. "It's not that I hate my people. ... There must be rules or there will be chaos."

Farmers and agriculture stakeholders agree the country does need to address undocumented workers. Pete Gelber, owner of Barrington Dairy in Montezuma, said the federal government has left the dairy industry “high and dry” with a lack of immigration reform.

“All the politicians on both sides of the aisle are choosing perfect over better,” he said. “Even these millions of undocumented workers — we’re pretending they’re not here while everyone benefits from them.”

Fear of audits are at an all-time high among workers and farmers, Gelber said. There are less migrant workers applying for jobs and farmers are in constant fear that due to all of the confusing red-tape of the visa programs, they might be doing something wrong.

“They are good people who want to work here,” Gelber said. “They just want to do what my grandparents did. Work and send money home.”

If they’re working and contributing to the economy, he said, they should be allowed the chance to get a workers visa, driver’s license and the chance at eventual citizenship.

Baldwin County Commissioner Sammy Hall said migrant laborers need a clearer path to legal entry.

“I do feel very strongly that this country is a country based on a system of laws and people need to come here, legally,” Hall said. “... And I think if you have a good system of legal entry into this country ... then everything would be much better for everybody.”

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