A North Carolina agriculture official joined growers from other states Wednesday in calling for congressional leaders to take action on immigration reform.
This is as much a federal issue as maintaining our military or managing our money supply, Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, said in a telephone press conference Wednesday. Many of our growers ... (are) experiencing some shortages of available labor coming to their farms.
Growers from Arizona, New York and Washington state also spoke about the lack of immigration reform in the agricultural sector. Some spoke about the farm labor shortage in their states caused by state immigration measures.
Wooten also said its important to discuss immigration reform because it is an election season, but noted that those running for office may not want to tackle the issue currently.
North Carolinas economy draws more than $70 billion about 20 percent of the states income from agriculture, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported in July.
The states major crops include tobacco, fruits, vegetables and Christmas trees, Wooten said.
Comprehensive immigration reform could include a worker visa for undocumented immigrants already working in the country, and perhaps they could pay a fine for being here, Wooten said Wednesday, and adds he is not suggesting citizenship or amnesty for the workers.
Wooten said farmers pay their workers minimum wage or better. Theyre not out there hiring undocumented workers because they could pay them less than American workers. Our farmers want to hire legal people and pay those people good wages. For the most part, they make every effort to hire legal workers.
About 90 percent of the estimated 90,000 farm workers in North Carolina are potentially undocumented, said Peter Daniel, assistant to the president at the N.C. Farm Bureau.
The pool of available American workers has all but collapsed. Were either going to import our workers or were going to import our food, thats the reality of it, Daniel said. We dont send our children to the university to learn to pick blueberries or harvest strawberries. We send them to school to operate businesses that are dependent on those commodities.
The state is the primary user of the H-2a program, which gives seasonal work visas to migrant workers, the (Raleigh) News & Observer has reported. Of the 70,000 H-2a laborers in the nation, North Carolina has about 10,000 nearly 15 percent. But the program comes with significant cost, said Brian Long, a spokesman for the states Agriculture Department.
Farmers pay about $1,000 in fees for the transportation and necessary paperwork for the guest worker: And thats before that temporary employee does any work on the farm.