Work visa limitations threatens fruit and vegetable crops

It is not likely that Rockville readers think about immigration every time they go to the grocery store. The fact is, however, that growers in the southern states depend on immigrant workers to get their produce out of the fields and into supermarkets. It is a system that has been put in danger by recent efforts to enforceimmigration laws and crack down on the employment of workers who do not have the proper paperwork.

Recently, growers in Georgia had to let their fruits and vegetables rot in the fields because they could not find enough workers to harvest the crops; many had fled the state out of concern that they would be ensnared in an effort to catch undocumented workers Now, growers in Florida — a state that grows much of the U.S. tomato and citrus crops– are worried that efforts to curtail immigration will hurt their operations in a similar manner.

The immediate source of their concern is E-Verify, the system designed by the federal government that checks for undocumented workers by running identities through a database of names and Social Security numbers. A bill working its way through Congress would require domestic farmers to use the E-Verify system. Between 120,000 and 150,00 people are employed by Florida’s agriculture industry and an estimated 65 percent of those are undocumented immigrants. Employers are concerned that if they have to use E-Verify, they will lose all their available labor force.

The debate over using undocumented immigrants as a workforce has been going on for years and frankly, we have not come much closer to solving it. On the one hand, we like our groceries to be cheap; to keep that up, growers need access to the inexpensive workforce undocumented immigrants provide. On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that paying undocumented immigrants less than you would pay a U.S. citizen amounts to exploitation, and the point that these jobs should go to U.S. citizens still gets made from time to time. What do you think about this issue?

Source: Palm Beach Post, “E-Verify anxiety: Local growers fear U.S. immigration bill,” Susan Salisbury, Sept. 21, 2011

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