Immigration decision stills the harvest

SCOTUS ruling has farmers fearful of labor shortages

The Supreme Court decision, Thursday, that confirmed the employer sanctions aspect of a 2007 Arizona immigration law (not the more controversial SB1070 signed in 2010), has chocked at least on wheel of the wagon for immigration reform and impeded the possibility for prosperity in Arizona and at least one other state that enacted similar legislation.

The 5-3 vote, which some proponents of the new laws mischaracterize as a validation of the entire legislative agenda targeting illegal immigrants, says that it is perfectly fine for states to suspend the business licenses of farms and other industries, as that is what a 1986 federal law allows. It does not answer the broader question of states having the power to create and enforce their own immigration policy, which the Obama administration claims is a federal responsibility.

The administration insists that it is well on its way to developing a comprehensive, national policy on illegal immigration, “[b]ut again and again, good faith efforts to fix America’s broken immigration system – from leaders of both parties – fall prey to the usual Washington political games,” wrote Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in an op-ed in Friday’s Lincoln[, Nebraska] Journal Star.

What the SCOTUS decision has also done is reinforce in the minds of most, especially Hispanic , immigrants, that legal or not, if you appear to be from a Latin American country, you will get hassled in states with these strict edicts. Georgia’s new immigration law, which was just signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), and does not even go into affect July 1, already has farmers voicing concerns over what they are hearing from their workers, about being hassled when it comes to their status.

“People are just saying: ‘I am not going to Georgia. We are going to get in trouble there,'” Dick Minor, a farmer from Leslie, Georgia, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “They have got options. And what they are saying is ‘Georgia is not the place to go.'”

He also told the AJC that he is short fifty workers this season because of the new law.

‘A dagger in the heart’

America’s Voice, a group promoting movement toward “common sense immigration reform,” issued a press release Friday, calling Thursday’s ruling “a dagger in the heart of Arizona agriculture.”

“Passing a mandatory E-Verify law without comprehensive immigration reform will kill American jobs and farms, burden small businesses, reduce tax revenue, and drive undocumented workers further underground,” claims America’s Voice Education Fund’s Deputy Director, Lynn Tramonte, in the statement.

Vilsack says the administration realizes that they must “keep in mind America’s working farmers and ranchers and the food they put on our kitchen tables.” Obama, he said, is calling “for a constructive and civil debate around an immigration system that would provide the United States and our farmers a reliable, legal work force” and “would continue our work to secure the borders.”

Still, the principle the administration feels would help the most in this conversation, is a carrot for farmers, and others who use immigrant labor. “Our nation’s farmers need a system that will reward them for playing by the rules – not punish them for it” by inhibiting their ability to fully staff their farms.

Homeland Security’s E-verify system, which is the tool most employers will be using to comply with the hiring laws, takes the same view. As it says on the DHS website, “The public can, and should, choose to reward companies that follow the law and employ a legal workforce.”

And people say this country can’t agree on anything.


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