Both the American Farm Bureau and the Ag Workforce Coalition said a bill approved Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee could negatively affect U.S. farming operations if it continues to move forward.
The bill, the Legal Workforce Act, mandates that employers in the U.S. use the E-Verify system within three years. E-Verify is an internet-based system provided through the Department of Homeland Security that verifies whether workers are allowed to legally work in the U.S.
According to AWC, mandatory E-Verify should be implemented after or in conjunction with legislation to address concerns about workforce availability and challenges farm employers face.
"Imposing mandatory E-verify without fixing our country's broken immigration system will sound the death knell for thousands of farming operations across the country," the group said in a press statement Tuesday.
According to AWC, the ag industry relies heavily on foreign-born workers, and without change on immigration, ag production will be limited.
"The economic impacts of this will spread far beyond the farm gate as Americans working in industry sectors both upstream and downstream of the farm will see their jobs threatened," the group said, citing studies that show "each of the 2 million hired farm employees supports two to three fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors."
In a radio newsline feature Tuesday, AFBF Labor Specialist Kristi Boswell said the group can support E-Verify, as long as a work authorization for current workers is addressed and a new guest worker program that’s administered by USDA is considered.
AFBF is advocating for a program that provides for a year-round workforce and a seasonal workforce, and much more flexible options for employers and workers.
If passed alone, however, the Legal Workforce Act could lead to a $30 billion to $60 billion decrease in food production, she said.
"We ultimately need tandem legislation or an inclusion of an agricultural solution in that legislation for us to support it," Boswell said.
AWC also advocated for a program that considers mandatory E-Verify after the current ag workforce and guestworker situation is addressed.
See video of a February Judiciary Committee hearing on the Legal Workforce Act.
Updated: This story was updated March 4 to indicate committee passage of the bill.