Congress Asked to Address Farm Labor

Earlier this summer, states across the country passed a series of restrictive immigration laws designed to curb the flow of illegal immigrants. The result of many of these laws was the collapse of local farm labor markets, with many potential laborers leaving states with restrictive immigration laws. The most prominent example of these labor crises were in Alabama and Georgia where both states stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue as crops rot in the fields.

However, the larger labor crises stretch beyond Alabama and Georgia. Over the last few weeks, Congress has held a series of talks regarding farm labor as it debates immigration reform. Earlier this week, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire spoke to Congress about the shortages in Washington State.

According to Gregoire’s testimony, Washington is suffering from a serious lack of farm labor. In the Wenatchee Valley, for example, apple growers have littered their farms with help wanted signs, offering as much as $150 a day for apple pickers, but have been unable to attract a stable and permanent workforce.

In addition to these current labor woes, Gregoire and other Washington farmers spoke out in opposition of potential federal legislation mandating the use of E-Verify, an electronic immigration status verifier. In Washington, for example, nearly ¾ of the required seasonal labor workforce do not possess the required documents.

The inability of farmers to move their operations in order to meet employment needs also hindered their ability to attract labor, Gregoire stated. Given the importance of agriculture to the larger U.S. economy, Gregoire and other farm advocates reiterated their opposition to E-Verify, stating that the federal government needed to find other solutions to the immigration problem that did not risk devastating the farm economy.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer