Mexican-American farm workers harvest broccoli March 12, 2009 near El Centro, California
Farmers across the country are rallying to fight a Republican-sponsored bill that would force them and all other employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers, a move some say could imperil not only future harvests but also the agricultural community’s traditional support for conservative candidates.
The bill was proposed by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It would require farmers — who have long relied on a labor force of immigrants, a majority here without legal documents — to check all new hires through E-Verify, a federal database run by the Department of Homeland Security devised to ferret out illegal immigrants.
Farm laborers, required like other workers to show that they are authorized to take jobs in the United States, often present Social Security numbers and some form of picture ID. Employers, many of them labor contractors providing crews to farms, have not been required to check the information and are discouraged by antidiscrimination laws from looking at it too closely. But it is an open secret that many farmworkers’ documents are false.
Supporters of E-Verify, an electronic system that is currently mandatory for most federal contractors but voluntary for other employers, argue that it would eliminate any doubt about workers’ legal status. But farmers say it could cripple a $390 billion industry that relies on hundreds of thousands of willing, low-wage immigrant workers to pick, sort and package everything from avocados to zucchini.
“This would be an emergency, a dire, dire situation,” said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, adding that the prospect of an E-Verify check would most likely mean that many immigrant workers would simply not show up. “We will end up closing down.”
You know, California agricultural interests have been getting a subsidized ride for decades in using illegal immigrations, primarily from Mexico, for harvesting their crops. Crops which pay them BIG MONEY.
Here is how it works.
The illegal immigrations who are migrant and with no papers are allowed to use either forged “Green Card” documents or NO documents in order to work in the fields for below market wages or at least really low wages for back-breaking hard manual labor. They receive in some cases housing and very little in the way of employee benefits that most of us receive. This all to the benefit of the wealth land owners and often corporate agricutural interests.
They can sell their crops for a cheaper price but, of course, their profit is good – very good.
When these illegal folks need health care or education for their children (who are born here as American citizens), the government provides them – not the employer.
In a May letter to the members of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Stallman, the president of the American Farm Bureau, cited a Labor Department survey placing the percentage of illegal workers in the fields at more than 50 percent. Other groups say the figure is closer to 70 percent. Denying farmers that labor supply, Mr. Stallman wrote, would cost them $5 billion to $9 billion annually.
Mr. Smith’s bill has attracted more solid support from nonagricultural business leaders, opening a divide between them and agricultural interests. Many nonfarm businesses have concluded that some form of employee verification is inevitable.
National organizations of restaurant owners and home builders gave their backing. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which unites Latino businesses in Mr. Smith’s district that have often been at odds with him, is leaning toward endorsing the bill, said Ramiro A. Cavazos, the president of the chamber.
It is time for the Congress to pass E-Verify and end the BIG subsidy to the agricultural interests. If they cannot staff their fields with LEGAL workers, then they have some remedies.
One remedy would be increased mechanism and efficiency in the fields. Maybe if illegal immigrants did not work in the fields at such low wages, the AG interests would invest in machines to do the harvesting without the back-breaking labor.
Also, the Agricultural folks could seek Guest-Worker legislation in the Congress that identifies and returns workers to their country of origin after a period of time of working in the United States. Costs associated by these workers would be paid up front by the AG interests. Children born of these workers in the United States would NOT be considered native born citizens (although there might be a time consuming Constituional issue here) and would have to return with their parents after a period of time.
The prospects of a E-Verify mandate passing in the House this year is good. In the Democrat controlled Senate, not so good and I am positive President Obama would veto the legislation anyway.
Then, there is the pressure from the AG interests on the Republicans.
Mr. Smith’s E-Verify bill also includes a three-year grace period before growers would have to comply. But such caveats have done little to quell opposition from farm groups, who have been pleading for years for an overhaul to allow a legal immigrant work force.
And that discontent could manifest itself in elections, farm representatives warn.
“Most of our folks are Republicans,” said Paul Wenger, the president of the California Farm Bureau. “But if the Republicans do this to them without a workable worker program, it will change their voting patterns or at very least their involvement in politics.”
Democrat and Republican Members of Congress have turned a blind eye to illegal immigration and agriculture for decades, since before World War II. Money talks in politics and the AG folks spread their money around and have donated a lot to Republicans.
But, American voters understand that these farming companies are prospering to the detriment of the taxpayer and we now have huge social/financial costs dealing with the generations of illegal immigrants that have been allowed to come into this country.
The time to enforce immigration law is long past.
Unfortunately, it will not occur with mandatory E-Verify until after the 2012 Presidential election or even 2016, if Obama is re-elected President.