FAIR's Blog Misleads On Study Of Georgia Immigration Law

January 19, 2012 8:47 am ET — Salvatore Colleluori

Tuesday on ImmigrationReform.com — a blog by the anti-immigrant SPLC-labeled hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform — FAIR Director of Research Eric Ruark published a post entitled "Georgia Department of Agriculture Finds Big Ag Lobby Made False Claims About HB87." In the piece, Ruark tries to make the case that a recently released report from the Georgia Department of Agriculture shows that opponents of Georgia's recently passed anti-immigrant law were wrong in claiming that the law harmed the agriculture industry. Yet, despite noting in his post that the survey was "thoroughly unscientific," Ruark uses data from the survey to make definitive claims about the impact of the immigration law. From Ruark's blog post:

Entitled a "Report on Agriculture Labor," the report is actually a 36-question survey, and a thoroughly unscientific survey at that, which was sent out to "over 4,000 agriculture producers, processors and other individuals in professions related to agriculture." The GADOA received back 811 responses.

Indeed, the survey uses inconclusive language, and doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive or final analysis of the issue. The survey explains:

It is unknown if the lack of full and part-time workers in 2011 was a direct result of the passage of Georgia HB87, however, the findings of this study suggest that this could be an issue. At the very least, this study identifies a perception that the lack of workers could be related to the passage of Georgia HB87. This is especially evident with several survey respondents that indicated that part-time workers were not available due to the new immigration law.

In addition, the study states that "[i]nitial findings indicate that immigration reform is having an impact on agriculture, but results are inconclusive" and "additional research should be repeated in 2012." However, despite acknowledging the study's flaws, Ruark uses them to his advantage, presenting select information as if it proves his point. He writes:

The Georgia Agribusiness Council, where Gary Black served as President before becoming the state's Agricultural Commissioner, estimated that HB87 would result in losses of $300 million for Georgia farmers. Commissioner Black testified before the Senate in October 2011 that losses would be "somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million." The survey actually found reported losses in 2011 to be $10 million. That works out to be three percent of the original figure released by agribusiness in order to scare lawmakers away from supporting HB87. Put into a broader context, $10 million represents 0.015 percent of the state's total agricultural output in 2009, and 0.0013 percent of the total state economy.

Of the 574 responses to a question asking if a lack of available workers caused income loss, 26 percent of the respondents said yes, and in total they estimated their own losses to be over $10 million. The study doesn't extrapolate the results beyond the survey respondents, so claiming that $10 million is a number that includes all losses in the state — after complaining about how "thoroughly unscientific" the study is — is disingenuous at best. What the data does indicate is that approximately 150 respondents believe they've lost millions of dollars, leaving open the question of how much more was lost by the thousands of farms not surveyed. (There are 48,000 farms in Georgia, according to the survey.)

In addition, the survey suggests that certain subsets within the agriculture industry experienced disproportionate difficulties in finding workers. Although only 26 percent of overall respondents said they had lost money because laborers weren't available to them, "over 50 percent of the producers of blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, squash, tobacco, and watermelon reported income losses in 2011 due to lack of available workers."

As much as Ruark and FAIR try to paint the survey as definitive evidence that opponents of HB87 were wrong, the study doesn't substantiate their claims.