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Monday, June 13, 2011 - 10:51am

Immigrants Struggle To Understand Law

Latino organizations are holding meetings with immigrants about a new state law that targets illegal immigration. The groups are trying to allay some immigrants’ fears, and sort out fact from fiction.

The groups are planning a session in Valdosta, and have already held meetings in Calhoun and Statesboro. A Savannah meeting drew 600 attendees.

Both legal and illegal immigrants are showing up to learn about the measure, known as House Bill 87.

Jerry Gonzalez with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials says some immigrants are leaving Georgia because they don’t understand the law.

“We are educating people about what HB 87 is, and isn’t, and also educating people about the pending legal process," he said in a phone interview. "Once people know the fuller picture of both the legal process and the reality of the situation, then I think more people are inclined to stay.”

The measure will allow police to check the immigration status of some criminal suspects.

Civil rights groups have asked a federal judge to block the state from implementing the law. If the judge does not grant the injunction, parts of the measure will take effect on July 1.

Representatives from the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta have also attended some of the meetings with immigrants.

The consulate has posted guidelines to the new law on its Web site. It’s also posted guidelines for similar law that Alabama has just passed. The consulate advises Mexican citizens not to sign anything they don’t understand. And it reminds them that the American police cannot detain suspects purely because of their skin color, nationality or native language.

Mexican citizens can contact the consulate, if the police arrest them.

The meetings come as some Georgia farmers are reporting labor shortages because they say migrant workers are fleeing to other states.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council says nearly half of the farmers it surveyed don’t have enough workers to harvest their crops. About 130 produce growers, cotton and peanut processors and other farm employers responded to the survey.

Council president Bryan Tolar says farmers have reported labor shortages before. But this year’s different.

“This year we’ve seen workers that have been available in the past that are now leaving," he said in a phone interview last week. "We’re not talking about people, uh, that we just can’t find the workers. We’re talking about people who have historically done the work who are not making themselves available to do that work. They are leaving the state.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said he hopes the unemployed can fill some vacant farm jobs.

He received a separate survey on the labor shortage from the Department of Agriculture on Friday. Deal has been traveling in Canada; a spokeswoman said the survey results will be available sometime this week.