Protecting American workers by destroying American jobs

In yet another case of labor protectionism, Republicans are sponsoring a bill to force farmers to e-verify the immigration status of their workers:

The bill was proposed by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It would require farmers — who have long relied on a labor force of immigrants, a majority here without legal documents — to check all new hires through E-Verify, a federal database run by the Department of Homeland Security devised to ferret out illegal immigrants.

Farm laborers, required like other workers to show that they are authorized to take jobs in the United States, often present Social Security numbers and some form of picture ID. Employers, many of them labor contractors providing crews to farms, have not been required to check the information and are discouraged by antidiscrimination laws from looking at it too closely. But it is an open secret that many farmworkers’ documents are false.

Supporters of E-Verify, an electronic system that is currently mandatory for most federal contractors but voluntary for other employers, argue that it would eliminate any doubt about workers’ legal status. But farmers say it could cripple a $390 billion industry that relies on hundreds of thousands of willing, low-wage immigrant workers to pick, sort and package everything from avocados to zucchini.

“This would be an emergency, a dire, dire situation,” said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, adding that the prospect of an E-Verify check would most likely mean that many immigrant workers would simply not show up. “We will end up closing down.”

That sentiment is echoed by growers like George Bonacich, an 81-year-old apricot farmer who has been working the same patch of land in Patterson, 80 miles east of San Francisco, since 1969.

This year, Mr. Bonacich employed up to 100 farmhands to pick a total of 50 to 100 tons each day, often in triple-digit heat. He speaks passionately about his employees — “They’re good people, hard-working,” he said — and plainly about what would happen if E-Verify were to become the law of the farmland.

“If we don’t have enough labor at peak time, the fruit goes on the ground,” he said. “The fruit will only stay on the tree so long.”

It seems as though no one has learned from the mistake already made:

After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.

It might be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal ordered a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

The results of that investigation have now been released. According to survey of 230 Georgia farmers conducted by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, farmers expect to need more than 11,000 workers at some point over the rest of the season, a number that probably underestimates the real need, since not every farmer in the state responded to the survey.

In an attempt to seem tough on illegal immigration Republicans are simply destroying jobs, harming the farming industry, and ousting hard-working, decent, innocent human beings from an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. In other words, shooting themselves in the foot, once again.

I’ve always wondered when conservatives and Republicans are going to realize that the labor protectionism they practice is antithetical to the free markets they preach.

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