PolitiFact: Anti-amnesty group takes on Sen. Graham

For a list of sources for this article, go to www.politifact.com/georgia.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says South Carolina “has a labor shortage and wants more immigration.”

Posted on a Georgia billboard funded by the Dustin Inman Society, April 15, 2013

The immigration debate is in high gear, prompting us to look into two claims on the issue.

The most prominent driving force for reform has been the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — which released its comprehensive immigration reform bill last month.

A key provision in the Senate bill (a House version could be a step-by-step approach still to come) would create guest worker programs for low-skilled and agricultural workers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is a proponent of the programs. But that advocacy didn’t go over so well here in Georgia with an anti-amnesty group, the Dustin Inman Society, which purchased a billboard advertisement criticizing Graham.

The billboard, posted in Cherokee County near Woodstock, reads: “South Carolina Welcomes the Undocumented! Sen. Lindsey Graham says his state has a labor shortage and wants more immigrants.” The advertisement goes on to tell job seekers: “For job tips, call his office (number provided) located in Pendleton, S.C., only two hours from Atlanta!”

The billboard ends with a link to a Patch article about Graham discussing immigration reform at a South Carolina Rotary Club meeting in February.

We wanted to know if the ad correctly quoted Graham and accurately characterized his comments.

We contacted D.A. King about the billboard. King is the leader of the Dustin Inman Society, named for the Georgia teenager killed in a 2000 traffic accident by an illegal immigrant. The billboard is in the county where Dustin Inman lived, King said.

“Absent the (mainstream media) shining some honest light on the matter, we thought it would be educational and entertaining to at least illuminate his claims and perhaps encourage black market labor to migrate to South Carolina,” King said in an email to us. “That would open up jobs here (in Georgia) and help legal workers.”

Graham, through a spokesman, said he had no comment on the billboard.

In the Patch article referenced on the advertisement, Graham told the Rotary Club: “When you go to these meatpacking plants in Saluda (S.C.), harvesting the crops or servicing the hotels along the coast, you may not believe it, but it is true — there is a shortage of labor in some parts of our economy, even though we have high unemployment.”

Graham also commented on the issue in a U.S. Senate hearing in February, and a portion of his remarks are included in a film by independent filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch, “They Come to America II.” The film, which is critical of Graham, says that 340,000 Americans in South Carolina can’t find full-time jobs.

“Nobody wants to displace a willing American worker, but I can tell you in South Carolina there are certain jobs, like in the meatpacking industry, that as an employer you can advertise all day long every day of the week and you’re not going to get that workforce,” Graham says during the hearing.

So, Graham says his state has a labor shortage for certain jobs, and in the instances he’s made that claim, he has largely focused on the meatpacking industry. Neither the billboard nor a film criticizing Graham, though, notes that the senator’s comments referred mostly to the meatpacking industry.

The billboard goes on to say that South Carolina welcomes the undocumented. Graham has advocated for a bill creating a guest worker program, but such a program would provide a legal means for some immigrants to work in the country.

To sum up, a Georgia anti-amnesty group, the Dustin Inman Society, criticized Graham for his comments that the Palmetto State has a labor shortage. As part of his argument for comprehensive immigration reform and guest worker programs, Graham made claims there is a labor shortage in some areas, and in at least two instances the Republican senator specifically mentioned the meatpacking industry as an area needing workers.

The claim about Graham’s statement contains an element of truth, but it ignores the senator’s focus on the meatpacking industry. The society goes on to say that Graham’s state welcomes undocumented immigrants, but the guest worker program he supports would create a legal means for immigrants to work. We rate the society’s claims Mostly False.