A plan to require all American businesses to run their employees through E-Verify, a program that confirms each is legally entitled to work in the U.S., could wreak havoc on an industry where 80 percent of the field workers are illegal immigrants. So could the increased paperwork audits already under way by the Obama administration.
But E-Verify is a system that is really faulty. It has a failure rate of over 50%, and has been known to cause severe problems for those who are eligible to work in the United States, often identifying authorized workers as unauthorized.
The effect that E-Verify will have on the agricultural economy is obvious to pretty much everyone but the “Three Amigos” – Rep. Lamar Smith, Rep. Elton Gallegly, and Rep. Steve King – who head up the Immigration Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, and are pushing for legislation that would make E-Verify mandatory for all businesses. Here’s more from the AP story on the impact to the agriculture industry specifically:
Vilsak and the American Farm Bureau Federation president, Bob Stallman, said in a recent conference call with reporters that the best and likely only hope to stave off an economic catastrophe for American farmers and consumers is comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy. Vilsak said the industry is worth about $5 billion to $9 billion a year.
“We need to address the agriculture labor supply,” Stallman said. “This situation will affect the future of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
Contributing to the article were Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers; Manuel Cunha, president of Nisei Farmers League; Shawn Coburn, a politically active farmer; Lee Wicker, deputy director of the North Carolina Growers Association; Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C, who are all in opinion that E-Verify could create a crisis in agriculture.
Still doubtful? Ask farmers in Alabama and Georgia, who are now struggling to find farm labor to save their businesses. With their respective new anti-immigrant laws in place, farmers have been pleading with state legislators to repeal the law – for good reason. According to the Tennessean, economists in the two states estimate Georgia’s and Alabama’s economies lost at least $115 million as a result of their anti-immigrant law:
Georgia economists estimate that their state lost $75 million from its $578 million agriculture industry as berries, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and the state’s famed Vidalia onions were left to rot.
Alabama’s initial estimate is $40 million lost, and Sam Addy, an economist at the University of Alabama, said that figure likely understates the damage.
The report on the economic damage to Georgia and Alabama comes from Tennessee, where legislators are considering passing similar legislation. Those in the agriculture industry are worried (rightly so) that such plans will cause a labor shortage:
“If, theoretically, you did get rid of all the Mexicans, you’d be hungry in a week,” Marks, a Tennessean tobacco farmer, said. “All your vegetables had a Mexican hand on it. All your fruit, and three-quarters of your meat.”