The House Judiciary Committee is poised to pass a series of immigration bills that focus exclusively on enforcement,  which would be devastating to agriculture and the rural economies it supports, the American Farm Bureau Federation warns. A Farm Bureau-commissioned study released in February 2014 showed that labor shortages resulting from enforcement-only reform would cause production to fall by $30 billion-$60 billion, while food prices would climb by 5-6 percent. 

Passed today by the committee, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1147) requires employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system, an Internet-based program that lets employers check a job applicant’s identification against Social Security Administration and Homeland Security Department records to confirm employment eligibility.

Unless mandatory E-Verify is coupled with provisions that provide farmers and ranchers the assurance that they will in fact have a supply of legal workers available, it’s not going to work for agriculture, said Kristi Boswell, AFBF labor specialist. 

“As employers, farmers and ranchers understand the important role they play in the system, but they cannot support an approach that threatens to wipe out billions of dollars a year that is helping to sustain rural communities,” Boswell said. 

Farm Bureau believes any federal mandates on employers to implement E-Verify must be based on an employment eligibility verification system that is simple, conclusive and timely; provide an affirmative defense for employers acting in good faith; allow for status adjustment of workers not authorized prior to implementation; and be preceded by full implementation of a usable agricultural worker program.

Other bills the committee is expected to ready for a House floor vote include those related to the enforcement of immigration laws in the interior of the United States and asylum law reform (to eliminate fraud and abuse). These bills will likely be put on the House floor with the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015 (H.R. 399). 

Farmers and ranchers have long been calling on Congress to approve legislation that addresses agriculture’s current workforce and creates a new flexible temporary visa program.