Requiring e-Verify without immigration reform a perilous path

A policy that could force food prices to rise as much as 6 percent should never be put on the table. As a nation, we expect better.

The Legal Workforce Act, now being considered in the House Judiciary Committee, would require all employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the Web-based e-Verify system. Such enforcement-only policies are bad for agriculture and bad for our economy.

In fact, this path has been traveled and was set ablaze. Alabama, Arizona and Georgia enacted enforcement-only policies, and each state was dealt severe blows to its economy. In Georgia alone, a report showed that an estimated $300 million was lost in harvested crops and $1 billion was lost in total economic impact. According to an American Farm Bureau-commissioned study, an enforcement-only approach would cause agricultural production in the U.S. to fall as much as $60 billion. Neither North Carolina nor the rest of our nation should be forced down this perilous path.

North Carolina farmers have already expressed their opinions on this kind of policy. It was just two years ago when the North Carolina Farm Bureau released its Agriculture Workforce Report, which revealed that nearly 1 in 5 farmers said they would be forced to cease operating if a mandatory e-Verify program were implemented without a workable federal guest worker program in place. Losing 1 out of 5 farms could mean losing up to 125,000 jobs that N.C. farms support and up to $15 billion from our state’s economy.

America’s farmers depend heavily on foreign workers, particularly at harvest time, to do the often-temporary demanding farm work that most Americans are unwilling to do. In certain sectors such as fruit and vegetable production, where it takes a skilled worker to assess the ripeness of produce, labor accounts for as much as 50 percent of farmers’ production costs. Nevermind that farmers are unable to pass those costs along to consumers – increasing the price of your food should be an option only if all else fails.

E-Verify can be a useful part of our nation’s immigration system, but it should not be forced into a broken system with the expectation that it will fix all the problems. The best thing – and first thing – that Congress can do to help farmers and begin the process of reforming our immigration system is to implement a usable agricultural worker program. I speak for many farmers when I say I support Congress’ attempt to fix our broken immigration system, but it is imperative that it be done the right way.

Larry Wooten is president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau.