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E-Verify: Rep. Lamar Smith’s Scheme to Mass Deport Immigrants—and the US Agriculture Industry

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FarmworkersBy Sofia Navas-Sharry:

As it turns out, undocumented workers aren’t really big fans of being targeted while they’re doing their job, and farmers aren’t so keen on having their workers picked on either. As a result of anti-immigrant legislators passing legislation that scares off undocumented workers, farmers are suffering, and a multi-billion dollar industry is at a significant loss. If you’re not believing it, see this story on Georgia.

The agriculture industry employs a workforce that pools about $280 billion per year in trade and economic activity. It is extremely dependent on undocumented workers to pick their crops and do the back-breaking work that nobody else seems to want to do.

E-verify is legislation that Lamar Smith claims to be “a jobs bill” as opposed to what it really is, which is an (anti-)immigration bill. And we might agree, if what he meant by “jobs bill” is that it kills both jobs and crops alike. In truth, E-Verify is a tool that would be used to mass-deport immigrants, and it’s a system that is actually hurting and not helping our economy. Because of E-Verify, undocumented immigrants are being forced deeper into an underground economy, and the farm jobs that they’ve left are not being filled. What we’ve got now are unpicked crops rotting on the vine, and we’re not seeing any unemployed Americans coming to the agriculture industry’s rescue. Ruben Navarrette tells an amusing little anecdote about how clueless people are about farmwork(ers):

WHEN I was in college, my roommate from New York City – aware that I had grown up in the farmlands of Central California – asked me a simple question: “What time of year do workers pick the raisins?”

After I stopped laughing, I had to explain to the city slicker that you don’t actually pick raisins. You pick grapes, and then lay them out in the sun to make raisins.

The story reminds me just how far Americans have gotten away from the farm and anything connected to it. In other news, milk does not come from cartons in the supermarket, tomatoes can’t be picked by machine unless you want ketchup, and peaches do not magically fall from trees and into cardboard boxes ready for shipping.

Summer means harvest for many crops, and so it’s a good time to visit with someone whose job it is to promote farming – and, in the public debate, prevent the spread of fertilizer.

Eric Larson is executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. I asked him how most Americans became so disconnected from the realities of life on the farm.

“We’re a victim of our own success,” Larson said. “We go to the store and there’s always food there. So we take it for granted that someone grew it so we can buy it. And as time goes on, we think less and less about the person who grew it.”

People should realize that immigrants are not taking another person’s job, nor do they replace them. What they actually do is complement them. The availability of jobs is not on a one to one ratio.  If one person gets a job, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s at the expense of another’s. Not to mention, for every on-farm job, there are about 3.1 “upstream” and “downstream” jobs. These undocumented workers are simply willing to do labor-intensive jobs in abrasive weather conditions, picking a variety of crops at tedium, because their ultimate goal is to provide a better future for themselves and  their family — something that is not likely to have happened in their native country.  From the Washington Post:

…the elephant in the room is that significant portions of the U.S. economy depend on undocumented immigrants for labor, said Craig J. Regelbrugge, vice president of the American Nursery & Landscape Association.

“Simply put, any E-Verify expansion that comes without meaningful immigration reform would be disastrous for the American agricultural economy,” he said. “It will leave the United States importing food and exporting jobs.”

Rep. Lamar Smith should really grasp that it takes a lot more than gravity and a truck to get that peach to the grocery store. It took actual manpower of the variety that he is now actually trying to deport in order to “help the economy.” When Americans are paying five dollars for a tomato, we’ll know who to blame.