A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would modify current immigration and labor laws, cracking down on businesses that use illegal immigrant labor. The bill, known as the Legal Workforce Act, would require all U.S. businesses to use E-Verify, an electronic workforce verification system. E-Verify matches employees’ names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers to federal databases. Supporters of the system say that it is more efficient than current I-9 forms and much more cost effective. In addition, some supporters say that it tracks immigrants who overstay their temporary visas, one of the largest loopholes in current immigration regulation.
However, many agricultural advocates are worried that tough immigration crackdowns could reduce their production rates. California’s Farm Bureau President Paul Wegner is concerned that mandated use of E-Verify could reduce their agricultural workforce, creating a ripple down effect that endangers jobs throughout the state. Given that every agricultural production jobs support three non-agricultural jobs, many are worried that increased farm unemployment could have much wider consequences.
Some of these fears seem valid. Recently, Georgia passed a tough new immigration law that mandated the use of E-Verify. As a result, some farmers say, farm labor supplies have dropped, leaving over 11,000 jobs vacant and costing the state roughly $300 million in the last two months with potential losses reaching$1 billion.
While the American Farm Bureau Federation, and farmers across the country, oppose mandatory use of E-Verify, they do not necessarily oppose all immigration reform. Many, however, worry that without a guaranteed source of legal farm workers, agricultural production will suffer. Without this legal alternative, many farm organizations have pledged to oppose the bill in both the House and the Senate.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer