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Study: Laws like E-Verify Could Lead to More Imports and “Significantly Boost Labor Costs”

by Mahwish Khan on 06/07/2011 at 10:08am

california agricultureYesterday, we wrote about the American Agricultural industry’s “fears of a disaster on the horizon” if Rep. Lamar Smith successfully enacts E-Verify legislation. Smith is undaunted by those fears. His message to the agriculture industry is for them to drop dead.

Also, yesterday, the Sacramento Bee reported on a new study from UC Davis and the US Department of Agriculture that confirms fears of a disaster are legitimate in California, which has the largest agricultural base in the country:

Stricter immigration enforcement would likely reduce the demand for farm labor and increase the mechanization of California agriculture, according to a new study co-authored by UC Davis economist.

The study, released Monday, says crackdowns on undocumented farmworkers will simply raise the cost of farm labor. Growers will respond by substituting labor-saving machinery. Imports of produce from lower-cost locations may increase, too.

More from UC Davis

Immigration reform and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws could significantly boost labor costs for California’s $20 billion fresh fruit, nut and vegetable crops, according to agricultural economists at UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This, in turn, would likely prompt the industry to adjust by increasing mechanization and introducing harvesting aids to boost laborers’ productivity, they predict. Imports may also rise.

“California’s produce industry depends on a constant influx of new, foreign-born laborers, and more than half of those are unauthorized laborers, primarily from Mexico,” says Phillip Martin, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and one of the nation’s leading authorities on agricultural labor.

“The cost of hiring these laborers will likely rise as the U.S. government ramps up enforcement of immigration laws by installing more physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and requiring more audits of workers’ I-9 employment verification forms,” Martin says.

The full report, “Labor Trajectories in California’s Produce Industry,” can be viewed here. We’d like to suggest that Rep. Smith read this study and talk to more people in the agricultural industry, before he sets out on his path to destroy it. However, it’s unlikely as Rep. Smith is settled on E-Verify. It’s a first step in his plan for mass deportation. He’s not going to let the destruction of an entire industry — a significant part of the American economy — stand in his way.

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