Mollie Tibbetts and the Cheap Labor Lobby
Mollie Tibbetts’ slaying at the hands (allegedly) of an illegal alien farm worker has revived the dubious narrative about an agricultural labor shortage in this country.Calls for more secure hiring by expanding use of the federal E-Verify employment screening system into the fields encountered immediate pushback from the usual suspects.The U.S. Chamber of Commerce told USA Today it would only support mandatory electronic worker verification if coupled with an overhaul, and expansion, of the country’s guest-worker programs. The American Farm Bureau Federation went a step further, arguing that passing E-Verify alone would reduce production by $60 billion and boost food prices by 5 percent to 6 percent.The constant plea for more cheap labor in the fields is self-serving and unsupported by the facts on the ground.While illegal aliens account for 47 percent of U.S. agricultural workers, according to the Labor Department, the ag sector constitutes less than 1 percent of the American workforce. Only 4 percent of illegal aliens and 2 percent of all immigrants perform farm work, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).Clearly, no one is going to starve to death if the agriculture industry’s illegal alien spigot is turned off. We doubt anyone would even notice a difference on their grocery bill.Since 2007, the number of legally imported ag workers on H-2A visas has tripled, growing an average of 13 percent annually, a second CIS study found.The H-2A program allows U.S. companies to hire an unlimited number of foreign guest workers in temporary, seasonal positions related to agriculture.Yet the Chamber and the Farm Bureau insist that’s not enough; they’re pushing Congress to allow H-2A visas to be used for year-round workers. H-2A laborers are paid less than the national average for comparable field work. Some — including equipment operators, construction laborers and supervisors — earn 23 percent to 95 percent less than the average, CIS reported.“Are these really jobs Americans won’t do, or has cheap labor pushed them out of the market?” asks Preston Huennekens, author of the CIS study.Three weeks after young Miss Tibbetts’ body was uncovered in an Iowa cornfield, the special pleaders at the Chamber and the Farm Bureau aren’t answering that crucial question. Instead, they continue to dig up shallow excuses to dodge E-Verify.
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