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If California Farms Are Facing “Slow Flow” of Workers, E-Verify Will Make It Worse (Think: Rotting)

by Mahwish Khan on 07/12/2011 at 10:23am

California AgricultureLast week, New America Media (cross-posted at California Progress Report) asked an important question about an industry directly impacted by immigration: Slow Flow of Immigrants Already Impacting California Farms?:

The number of immigrants illegally crossing into the United States from Mexico has declined according to a new study, and some California farmers are already seeing the effects on their crops.

“We’ve seen in the valley this year a reduction of labor that we haven’t seen for five or six years,” said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League in Fresno, Calif.

“There could be crops that could go down as being damaged because they cannot be harvested fast enough. Many of the vegetables growing in the valley are going to be in competition for the labor as well,” he said. “You’re going to see rotting.”

We’re already seeing rotting crops in Georgia. That’s because Georgia passed an E-Verify law and undocumented farmworkers abandoned the state. In addition to all the other factors impacting California’s agricultural workforce, there’s another looming threat: Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX)  and Elton Gallegly (R-CA). Those two Republicans hold key positions on the House Judiciary Committee and set immigration strategy for the GOP-led House. Currently, they are pushing a national E-Verify bill, which will insure that we’ll see rotting fields in California. One would hope that the lessons from Georgia would dissuade Smith and Gallegly, but they’re more obsessed with deporting undocument immigrants at any cost.

So while some see a shortage of farm workers already in California, others don’t — for now. The United Farm Workers is not seeing worker shortages, nor is the industry’s trade organization. But the spokesperson for the California Farm Bureau Federation provides some insight into the work force:

Dave Kranz, spokesperson for the California Farm Bureau Federation, a private non-profit organization in Sacramento and the largest farm organization in California, said that he wasn’t aware of a significant labor shortage this year, though it may be too soon to tell. Farmers would notice this during the peak season of the harvest in August and September, he said.

But he added, “hiring people who can come and go legally” has been a “long-term concern” for the agricultural industry.

“It’s a hard thing to get farmers to talk about,” added Fink-Weber, “even though we admit that 70 percent of our workforce as a whole is improperly documented.”

“Here in California,” she added, “we don’t have state laws like Arizona or Georgia,” that have each passed laws cracking down on undocumented immigration.

True, California doesn’t have harsh anti-immigrant laws like those states, but Smith and Gallegy are trying to impose a national law that would have the same impact. And that will only make the labor shortage — and the potential for rotting crops — even worse. While Smith inaccurately describes his bill as a jobs bill, it’s actually a jobs — and crops — killer.

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