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Economics vs. enforcement: The long-running Vidalia onion saga

Photo by Old Shoe Woman/Flickr (Creative Commons)


Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered examined the looming crisis in the Vidalia onion industry in Georgia, where growers of the prized sweet onions could be left without sufficient workers because of a new anti-illegal immigration law that tightens regulations for hiring labor.

But like a twice-deported immigrant, this is not the first time that Vidalia onions, grown exclusively in a small region within Georgia, have had a run-in with immigration enforcement.

The story didn't mention the political firestorm that ensued more than a dozen years ago, when immigration agents famously targeted Georgia's Vidalia onion growers. That story in the end illustrated how difficult it is for agriculture to subsist without cheap unauthorized labor - and how economics can trump the political will to enforce immigration laws when push comes to shove.

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