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Is immigration poised to start another intra-party GOP battle?

Implementation of something called E-Verify is bringing out opposition from a group that the GOP counts on: farmers.  Georgia farmers are upset:

Georgia farmers are suffering from the state’s new immigration law. HB 87 was partially blocked by the courts, but other parts took effect July 1. Even without fully becoming law, the legislation had a chilling effect on migrant workers essential to agriculture, according to George Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

And I know a bill has been introduced here in Ohio. And the legislation has been supported by conservatives in the past (see this Matt Mayer Op-Ed).

But as this New York Times article points out, this is a budding area of conflict between Republicans and an important part of the coalition:

Farmers across the country are rallying to fight a Republican-sponsored bill that would force them and all other employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers, a move some say could imperil not only future harvests but also the agricultural community’s traditional support for conservative candidates.

The bill was proposed by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It would require farmers — who have long relied on a labor force of immigrants, a majority here without legal documents — to check all new hires through E-Verify, a federal database run by the Department of Homeland Security devised to ferret out illegal immigrants.

I don’t bring this up because I am an expert at e-verify or to start a flame war on immigration. Instead, I raise the issue to caution against making the perfect the enemy of the good; to caution against rushing to pass legislation without thinking of unintended consequences.

The economics of immigration are complex as are the politics. But I am not sure we want to be angering the farmers in key states like Ohio, Georgia, Texas and Florida heading into the 2012.  And I am also not sure we should be harming agricultural in this economy. I know in Ohio agriculture is huge and has a vast economic impact.  Food prices are high enough do we want to add to that?

I have seen figures that indicate that 30% to 50% of Georgia’s agricultural workforce didn’t show up after the passage of E-Verify. This resulted in $300 million in reduced productivity and failed crops.

Before all of you immigration hard liners (and I am not exactly an open boarder type) go crazy on me, I am simply pointing out the conflict and traps inherent in this issue and advising caution. Is this a fight we need to pick now? Are we sure we know the program works and the likely actions and reactions that are to follow?

Surely, we can take the time to make sure that we can enforce the law and provide order without significant distribution to our food chain and/or angering an important ally. 2012 is going to be a critical election in terms of getting American government back on track and the economy growing again. Focus is going to be critical. Proceed with caution.

There is of course a coalition fighting for legislation that better takes agricultural concerns into consideration. There arguments makes some sense to me, but your mileage may vary.  Food for thought at least.

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