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House Republicans have introduced a bill designed to crack down on “illegal” immigration. House immigration subcommittee chairman Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) said last month that he will introduce a bill within the next month to mandate the use of an illegal-worker detection system, E-Verify. The detection system is already mandatory for government agencies and contractors. It is also used voluntarily by nearly 250,000 businesses to check the legal status of potential hires, however critics say to make E-Verify mandatory would severely hurt U.S. agriculture by depriving farmers of cheap labor.
Gallegly believes that by making E-Verify a requirement for all businesses, it would force all the undocumented workers out of the country. “If there was ever a need to do something quickly, when we have 14 million Americans who aren’t working today, I think they deserve to be put in the front of the line,” the California Republican said at a hearing on the use of E-Verify.
Farm owners maintain that very few U.S. citizens want the types of jobs taken by undocumented workers. The jobs are usually low-paying and backbreaking work such as fruit-picking. Last year, a drive by United Farm Workers called “Take Our Jobs” and promoted by Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert seemed to highlight that claim–few Americans will work agricultural jobs, even with record high unemployment.
David Cox, the chief executive of a California fruit-growing company, said he has hired a few naturalized Americans, but some quit almost immediately and others said they plan to leave as soon as they can find another job. “As the economy improves, there will be much fewer to do this kind of work,” Cox maintains. “If E-Verify became mandatory, we would lose most of our workforce overnight.”
Although designed to promote the economy, many experts feel this bill will likely hurt the economy, driving food prices even higher and increasing the demand for cheaper imported food. “Pressing harder on the gas without fixing the vehicle will only hurt our economy,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the immigration subcommittee, said. “Particularly in agriculture, mandating the use of E-Verify would reverse the polarity of the magnet, shipping millions of jobs overseas.”
It would also be expensive to implement. Bloomberg News Service estimated it would cost small businesses $2.6 billion annually to apply E-Verify if it became mandatory. Another problem is that Immigration and Customs can only deport so many people a year. They do not have the resources to deport the amount of people that may need to be if E-Verify became mandatory.