E-Verify, Employers & Employment, H-2A, Labor, Research and Studies

Let Them Eat Produce Picked by Robots

From ThePacker.com, Fresh Talk Blog, Tom Karst, 13 Apr 2011.

A funny thing happened on the way to immigration reform. While American agriculture has been warning about the dire economic consequences of an “enforcement only” approach to illegal immigration these past few years, recession-wracked citizens increasingly believe that it is the lack of enforcement that is impoverishing the U.S.

Why the disconnect? There should be no great shock, of course. No plain statement relating to illegal immigration and its effects has ever been accepted as the untinged truth by all, and perhaps less so now than ever.

A recent poll at Rasmussen Reports, said that 61% of adults said there would be less poverty if immigration laws were enforced. Only 19% disagreed, with 20% unsure.

It is apparently obvious to those 61%; send an illegal immigrant home and let an American fill that job.

The poll said Republicans were more prone to believe that immigration enforcement would decrease poverty levels than Democrats, and men were also more likely than woman to believe that enforcing immigration laws would help ease the pain of the poor.

The poll’s results have substantially changed from July 2007, when only 45% of Americans felt poverty would decline if immigration laws would be enforced and 32% disagreed.

Cleary, surveys like this recent result are disheartening for growers facing the possibility of mandatory E-Verify participation for farm employers. Some believe mandatory E-Verify would knock out more than half of the work force for fresh produce growers.

Wake up Mr. Produce Executive, one man says.

“The train is on the tracks,” said Steve Scaroni, with Heber, Calif.-based Valley Harvesting and Packing. “It is a wreck looking for a place to happen.”

Scaroni said produce company chief executive officers and industry leaders don’t appreciate how serious the threat is to their future.

In fact, Scaroni has moved his vegetable growing operation from California to Mexico because of labor uncertainties, he said.

While growers argue for a more workable H-2A program, groups like Farmworker Justice say that “foreign contract labor” demeans the U.S. commitment to provide for its own citizens and lead to abuse of foreign workers. The Obama Administration hasn’t exactly done handsprings to help U.S. growers who use the program. In fact, it seems just the opposite, based on my conversations with Scaroni and others.

Maureen Torrey Marshall, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y., said growers of vegetables are considering other options like field grains that will deliver far less economic benefits to communities, she said.

Small businesses, supermarkets, hospitals and schools will suffer because of it, she said. While 1,000 acres of field corn could be produced with $70,000 in labor, while 1,000 acres of vegetables could generate $2 million to $3 million in wages.

Listen up, you 61% of Americans who think banishing illegal immigrants from the workforce would reduce poverty; do you think eliminating millions in wages from a community will make it less impoverished? No, the result will be quite the opposite.

But alas, it seems mandatory E-Verify – described by one specialty crop advocate as a “man-made disaster” – could be imposed on an agricultural community ill-equipped to find legal workers to replace the illegal immigrants who will be fired.

A majority of Americans may feel vaguely reassured if Congress passes mandatory E-Verify. They shouldn’t.

While we can dream of the far-off day when robots will pick head lettuce and cherries, the labor crunch in agriculture trailing an “enforcement first” mantra promises to increase our need for imported fruits and vegetables and deliver a body blow to the American economy.

Read at: ThePacker.com, Fresh Talk Blog, “Let them eat produce picked by robots” by Tom Karst, 13 Apr 2011.

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