Mandatory E-Verify would have a devastating impact on our industry in the absence of a legislative solution for agriculture’s labor needs. NCFC strongly opposes mandatory E-Verify that does not also address the agricultural workforce crisis.
To avoid the irreparable harm that would ensue if mandatory E-Verify legislation were to pass without a solution for agriculture, Congress must pass immigration reform that meets the needs of all of agriculture and provides a lasting solution to the issue of current and future agricultural labor in the U.S. Legislative reform must include both an adjustment for current experienced, unauthorized agricultural workers and a new guestworker program to provide access to a legal workforce into the future.
On March 3, 2015, the House Judiciary Committee marked-up H.R. 1147, the Legal Workforce Act which would mandate the use of the E-Verify system by employers to confirm the legal status of prospective employees. The legislation was reported out of Committee by a vote of 20-13.
The House bill includes a 36-month phase-in for the agriculture industry which is an important recognition of our workforce situation; however, without first addressing agriculture’s labor crisis with a solution, no amount of time is adequate.
It would be deeply problematic if H.R. 1147 were to pass without a solution for agriculture. NCFC continues to urge Congress not to bring H.R. 1147 to the House floor until there is legislation that provides a solution for agriculture that addresses both our current agricultural workforce and creates a new guestworker program to meet future needs.
In a similar fashion, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a mandatory E-Verify bill in the Senate in April 2015 that would make the use of E-Verify mandatory for all employers within one year.
While the labor situation in agriculture has been a concern for many years, it has now reached a breaking point. Today, large segments of American agriculture face a critical lack of workers, a shortage that makes our farms and ranches less competitive and threatens the abundant, safe and affordable food supply American consumers enjoy.
Jobs in agriculture are physically demanding, conducted in all seasons and are often transitory. To most U.S. residents seeking employment, these conditions are not attractive. Yet, for many prospective workers from other countries, these jobs present real economic opportunities.
Despite the employers’ best efforts, many if not most, of the agricultural workforce is in the U.S. without proper work authority. Based on a farm labor study conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) in 2014, the impact of an enforcement-only approach to immigration that causes agriculture to lose access to its workforce would result in agricultural output falling by $30 to $60 billion.
Additionally, the AFBF study found an enforcement-only approach would result in a 30-61 percent decrease in domestic fruit production and a 15-31 percent decrease in domestic vegetable production. The livestock sector would also suffer lost production by as much as 27 percent. The dairy industry in particular would be impacted by an enforcement-only approach. The dairy industry is very labor intensive—cows must be milked twice a day, 365 days a year, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July. For dairy farmers, their harvest comes twice a day, every day. An adequate and skilled workforce is a must to help ensure the well-being, health and productivity of the cows. And while many others in agriculture can attempt to utilize the current but dysfunctional H-2A temporary and seasonal guestworker program, those with dairy and livestock operations cannot utilize this or any other program because of their year-round, rather than seasonal, need. Thus they are left without any legal channel to find workers if U.S. workers are simply not available or not interested.
Agriculture needs a program that functions as efficiently as the current free market movement of migrant farm workers while providing the security of a contractual relationship in areas where there is little migration. Having lost confidence in the H-2A structure as a framework for future success, agriculture is seeking the new approach to ensure a legal, reliable, long-term workforce for all sectors of the industry.