4/7 – AJC Opinion: E-Verify bill will hurt state farms | ajc.com

E-Verify bill will hurt state farms  | ajc.com.


Opinion 7:51 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Each year, as the greens and fairways at Augusta National are manicured to perfection, Georgians welcome the world to the beauty and southern hospitality of this special place.

Georgia has become an international success story for professional golf, conventions, agriculture and other industry sectors in the Southeast.

These are but a few of the industries that rely on a stable work force, creating jobs that are unattractive for some, yet opportunities of independence for others.

As worldwide visitors gather in Augusta this week to enjoy Georgia, politically charged immigration reform has taken shape under the Gold Dome in Atlanta that sends the wrong message to our visitors and to a struggling economic environment.

The consequences of this legislation would not only impact visitors to Augusta, but the viability of every economy of our diverse state.

The legislation mandates businesses with five or more employees use a voluntary federal program called E-Verify to electronically verify the legal status of new hires.

A study commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security indicates the program erroneously categorizes 10 percent of legal, Hispanic workers as being ineligible to work. It also puts employers at risk of lawsuits should they trip over any one of the many rules put in place by this so-called “free” program.

Misconceptions often cloud fact, and this debate has been victim to numerous fallacies.

No, the federal H-2A guest worker visa program so often cited by fringe groups as the solution to agricultural labor shortages are not adequate for providing the 87,000 necessary jobs vital to our rural economies.

In fact, these programs are inadequate for a large majority of farms in Georgia.

Whether by the unsustainable cost required per employee (an estimated $14 per hour including housing, meals, transportation, etc.) or even the failed technology that delays the issuance of necessary paperwork of migrant workers, the suggestion that the H-2A program is the panacea for farm worker shortages is blatantly incorrect.

In Georgia, only 20 farms are enduring the challenges of the program and only 45,000 H-2A visas were awarded in 2009 nationwide.

No, migrant workers are not being paid subservient wages or ballooning state unemployment figures.

Employers in our state, and every state, are bound by federal law to verify the status of new hires using the I-9 form. Those who do not are subject to federal prosecution.

Citizens do have rights, and if employers question the legal status of new hires after they have provided acceptable documentation of their identity, the employer could be subject to prosecution under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

And if auditors find that an employer is paying employees in a manner that avoids payroll and income taxes, the employer must answer to the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition, there are many businesses looking for workers — just not the type of work some are willing to perform, regardless of wage.

So, when 270 businesses sign a letter expressing concern for immigration legislation that stymies economic growth and job creation, as they did this week, citizens and lawmakers alike will be wise to listen.

How many businesses need to “tee it up” and voice opposition to a jobs-killing bill before legislators realize that a well-intended policy won’t land anywhere near the green?

Bryan Tolar is president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, representing more than 700 member businesses in Georgia.


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