With an agricultural industry reaching into the multiple billions of dollars, New York farmers are throwing their weight behind efforts to maintain a healthy immigrant workforce through year-round and a flexible guest worker visa program for seasonal employees. To this end, New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton told officials in Washington that the organization would offer support of the expansion of the E-verify program on the condition that it is linked with other reforms.
E-verify is a federal program whereby employers can determine if employees are legally qualified to work in the United States.
“We look for a stable workforce on our farms,” Norton is quoted as telling reporters in a late February conference call.
As Norton lays out the issue, the Republican “secure the border first” approach to immigration is ineffective for the Farm Bureau constituency. New York dairies and other farms say effective immigration reform amounts to addressing the labor side of the equation.
The value of New York’s agricultural industry in 2013 came in at $5.7 billion. The state leads the country in the production of yogurt, cottage cheese, pumpkins and cabbage New York is ranked the No. 2 state in the country in terms of the production of apples, squash and maple syrup. The state’s production levels in terms of milk, grapes and cauliflower comes in at No. 3 in the country.
Norton and the Farm Bureau are focused on the issue because the usual Washington gamesmanship around immigration meant the last Congress declined bipartisan legislation to secure the border, create a path to citizenship and streamline farm guest worker programs. Republicans in the current Congress are focused on defunding President Obama’s executive order.
“Everyone agrees that there is a problem,” said Norton, “but there is no trust or faith on either side.”
The New York Farm Bureau efforts are harmonious with those of the Western Growers, a trade association that represents many California farmers. California’s agricultural industry is reportedly valued at $46.4 billion with vegetable, fruit and nut crops. Western Growers estimates a farm labor shortage hovering in the range of 15-20 percent.