Jul 14, 2011

Immigration Crackdown: U.S. agriculture needs immigration reform

Column by Ruben Navarrette

U.S. agriculture needs immigration reform - San Antonio Express-News: "Even in a nation that got its start as an agrarian society, and where agriculture generates more than $280 billion a year in economic activity, something happens when people move off the farm and into the city: We forget how tough farm work really is, and we begin to believe that anyone can do it.
Getting fruits and vegetables out of the fields and into our kitchens takes a lot of care, effort and skill. And for the industry, it takes a reliance on what many in agribusiness now candidly admit is the labor of illegal immigrants.

“We're quite certain that more than 50 percent of our workers are using forged or illegally procured documents,” says Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

Larson is not shy about expressing support for comprehensive immigration reform, (or) his frustration with Americans who think that farms could survive without illegal immigrants...

“I don't care how high unemployment gets,” Larson said. “People do not show up at the farms. They just will not do it. ... We've got massive unemployment. We have a shortage of farm workers right now, and the gap is not being filled.”

Larson is convinced that many farms will shut down if Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and other GOP hardliners require all employers to use the federal E-Verify system, which works better in theory than in practice. It informs employers if a Social Security number belongs to someone out there; it just doesn't tell them if it belongs to the person who presented it.

“The farm community has no problem with E-Verify,” Larson said. “We would welcome it but only after we have a program that gives us access to guest workers or workers on a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.”"

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