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Friday, Sep. 23, 2011

Oregon winegrowers vow to fight E-Verify system

WILSONVILLE, Ore. — Oregon agriculture leaders responded sharply to news this week that the House Judiciary Committee approved Chairman Lamar Smith's H.R.2885, the Legal Workforce Act.

Top officials with the Oregon Association of Nurseries, Oregon Dairy Commission, Oregon Winegrowers Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau issued statements today in opposition to H.R. 2885, which would make a federal E-Verify system mandatory for all U.S. employers within three years.

“This legislation would have an extremely detrimental effect on Oregon’s $2.7 billion wine industry, which accounted for more than 13,500 jobs last year,” said Sam Tannahill, chairman of the Oregon Winegrowers Association. “It unfairly places the burden of policing the U.S. immigration system on the backs of hundreds of mostly small winegrowers and threatens the healthy growth we are currently experiencing.”

Today, the group sent a letter to Congressman John Boehner, Speaker of the House, expressing strong opposition to H.R. 2885, the Legal Workforce Act.

An enforcement-only approach is particularly damaging to Oregon’s labor-dependent industries because it provides no mechanism to replace workers removed from the system, the group said.

A study conducted by William K. Jaeger, a professor with Oregon State University, indicates the removal of undocumented workers could cause a loss of 173,500 jobs in the short-term, or 7.7 percent of Oregon’s workforce, along with a reduction in statewide annual production of up to $17.7 billion.

According to the Jaeger study, immigrant labor comprises 4.3 percent of Oregon’s total workforce or roughly 100,000 workers. The percentages are much higher in the state’s hospitality, agriculture and construction industries.

Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries said, “H.R. 2885 shortchanges the necessary conversation about comprehensive reform. Congress needs to act on a balanced approach that considers both the current and future employment needs of our economy.”

The bill does not provide relief for agricultural or seasonal employers. Nor does it address high-priority issues related to immigration reform, such as employers’ future workforce needs or increased border security.

“Mandatory E-Verify, without some consideration for the future flow of workers, will harm job creation in the name of creating jobs,” said Jim Krahn, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. “The bill will decimate Oregon’s dairy farmers who have little prospect of workers being replaced by Americans looking for full-time and non-farm work.”

The four groups represent one segment of the Coalition for A Working Oregon, a unique alliance of business and industry leaders formed to articulate the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

“We face a growing workforce crisis that threatens American agriculture, and Congress needs to act on real solutions that work for all industries,” said Dave Dillon, executive vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau. “E-Verify alone doesn’t resolve our country’s flawed immigration system. Without better legal workforce options, Oregon farmers would be irreparably harmed by this bill.”