The agriculture industry is experiencing a critical shortage of labor to plant and harvest crops. To address the agriculture labor shortage Congress must approve, and the president must sign, an immigration reform bill that includes a viable guestworker program and provides an opportunity for the currently improperly-documented workforce to obtain legal work status. Most importantly, those provisions must be enacted into law and fully implemented before any mandatory enforcement program is required.
Mandatory E-Verify without a solution for agriculture will cause significant harm to American farmers and force the U.S. to import greater and greater amounts of our food and fiber. To avoid a full-blown crisis in agriculture where product either rots in the field or production shifts to overseas competitors, U.S. potato growers support efforts to ensure that agricultural employers have access to a stable and skilled workforce, including current workers without U.S. citizenship.
NPC is working with the Agriculture Workforce Coalition in meeting with House and Senate leadership and member offices on a viable solution for agriculture. Agriculture and the public would benefit from immigration policy that addresses all aspects of the problem in the appropriate sequence. Implementation of Mandatory E-Verify or other employer enforcement actions cannot occur until an industry-supported solution for agriculture’s labor crisis is fully implemented and operational. The economic impact of an “enforcement-only” approach would cause tremendous harm to American consumers and the farmers that feed them for years to come.
The House Judiciary Committee did approve an agriculture guestworker bill in June 2018, but it did not have the necessary votes to pass the House floor. Though this bill did not solve the full problem for agriculture, it was at least an attempt to begin the process. Agriculture was divided on whether to provide its support and therefore was unable to provide strong support for the bill. Even if the entire industry had been unified, it is highly unlikely that it would have moved forward on the contentious House floor, as no immigration reform legislation of any kind was passed in the House in 2018.
With the Democrats taking control of the House in 2019, immigration reform will likely be considered in some form in that chamber. In contrast with Republican efforts to create a new guest worker program, the Democrats’ primary agricultural interest in the past has involved a legal adjustment for the 1.2 million+ improperly documented workers already in the U.S. In that regard, bills in both the House and Senate were introduced early in the 116th Congress to provide legal status (via a “blue card” visa) to certain qualifying farmworkers.
NPC continues to work closely with the Agricultural Workforce Coalition as it seeks to negotiate a starting ag immigration reform package in the House of Representatives that can begin the process of sending a workable bill to the President’s desk.
Updated July 2019