The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform announced on a conference call Thursday they do not support the “Legal Workforce Act,” which would mandate E-Verify at the national level. The bill was introduced this week by Republican Congressman Lamar Smith.
According to the Agriculture Coalition (which represents more than 300 national, regional, and state groups representing the fruit, vegetable, dairy, livestock, nursery, greenhouse, and Christmas tree industries), about 75 percent of farmworkers are unauthorized, and virtually the entire applicant pool is not authorized to work in the U.S.
Craig Regelbrugge, co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition, said in a press release issued Thursday that E-Verify without true solutions for the agricultural sector will destroy U.S. jobs.
The release added that “if Congress makes mandatory use of the E-Verify program, crops will rot, farms will fail, much U.S. farm production and many farm-dependent U.S. jobs will simply leave the country.”
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives — and Agriculture Coalition member — writes that the economic damage will not be limited to farms and ranches. “Each of the 1.6 million hired farm employees to support 2 to 3 full-time American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors.”
Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, described the worsening situation developing across the border in Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a state immigration bill that includes E-Verify.
Stuart said that migrant farmworkers who would normally harvest onions and vegetables in Georgia are not doing so, adding that “labor shortages of 30 to 50 percent are resulting in rotting crops, and they are desperately grasping for solutions.” He concluded that Florida agriculture, which has been a pillar of the economy, is even more vulnerable.
National Agriculture Statistics Service (pdf.) data indicate that the market value of Florida agriculture products sold in 2007 was more than $7.7 billion, an amount that ranks Florida 11th in the U.S.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a speech delivered Thursday that agriculture in Florida and the U.S. needs a practical temporary guest worker program.
In the House subcommittee hearing held this week on the mandatory E-Verify bill, Tyler Moran, policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, said that if mandatory E-verify is implemented without broader immigration reform it will force some workers into the cash economy outside of our tax system, ship agricultural jobs overseas and force millions of American workers to stand in a government line to correct their records or lose their jobs, and that hundreds of thousands will likely lose their jobs because of government database errors in E-Verify.