E-Verify, Guest Worker Program, Immigration, Labor, Legislation, Opinion/Editorial/Commentary

Opinion: Stop the Immigration Squabbling Now

From ThePacker.com, “Stop the immigration squabbling now” by Tom Karst, 23 Sept 2011.

Tom Karst, National Editor, The Packer

Tom Karst, National Editor, The Packer

If Americans only had the power to lock lawmakers in a room, giving them only refried beans and fried pork rinds as sustenance.

We would then issue an ultimatum: solve the immigration problem in a bipartisan fashion or don’t think about leaving this room.

It would be amusing to keep tabs on their progress — by video feed, of course.

As it is, we only see lawmakers take up immigration to score political points, and the sight is disheartening.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, talked glowingly about his mandatory E-Verify bill, which passed out of committee Sept. 21.

He didn’t mention the fact that it provides absolutely no back-up plan for agriculture to replace half or more of the migrant workforce that would be ineligible to work on U.S. farms if mandatory E-Verify were to become law.

Instead, he opined in a press release: “Twenty-three million Americans are unemployed or can’t find full-time work. At the same time, seven million people are working illegally.

“These jobs should go to American citizens and legal workers. The unemployment rate in the black community is 17% and among Hispanics it’s 11%. Anyone who cares about helping unemployed Americans should care about opening up jobs for them.”

In Smith’s worldview, the out-of-work 20-somethings should be scouring want ads for apple pickers in Yakima, Wash., or grape harvesters in Fresno, Calif., instead of playing Call of Duty on their Playstation 3 and hitting Chipolte every other night.

Maybe he’s right, but it isn’t going to happen.

I noticed The Packer’s story on the committee’s approval of the E-Verify bill created a storm of reader comments, following a predictable pattern.

For example, a comment representative of a non-industry reader who is chapped about lax immigration laws in the U.S. would say something like, “If you paid Americans a good wage, they will work at any job.”

That guy would insist that Big Ag is taking advantage of illegal immigrants, and American workers and rural communities are paying the price for the cheap foreign labor.

On the other hand, growers doubt that many Americans are eager to sign on to the kind of work that would be expected of them in the orchard.

A typical comment from one of our farmer friends asks where these lily-white Americans with a desire to work from dawn to dusk are when they are looking for them.

Step right up, they say, and sign up to pick apples or cut lettuce for 12 hours a day. You are more than welcome.

But what happens when that natural born American signs up to pick produce one day and never returns after a few hours on the job?

Indeed, what is the American produce grower supposed to do? Is it reasonable to expect that a guest worker program will be constructed in the next few months that will help solve some of their concerns about a legal workforce?

That would be the ideal, but it appears the immigration issue is still intractable — particularly as we approach the 2012 election cycle.

Already, the issue is simmering in the Republican debate for the presidential nomination.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been targeted for his opposition to E-Verify and support for a guest worker program.

If only the American people — or even better, the fresh produce industry — had a bubbling pot of refried beans, lawmakers in a locked room and the ability to impose their will.

Source: ThePacker.com, “Stop the immigration squabbling now” by Tom Karst, 23 Sept 2011.

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