Farm Labor Shortages and Immigration Policy [Updated September 6, 2001]   [open pdf - 90KB]

"Slightly more than half of today's farmworkers are not legally eligible to hold U.S. jobs. Growers are concerned that if certain federal activities are effective, they could lose a considerable portion of their labor force and hence of their livelihood. These federal actions include increased border enforcement efforts, work eligibility verification pilot programs and audits of employees' work authorization documents to determine their authenticity. In addition, the Social Security Administration has more often been sending letters that notify employers of mismatches between their employees' names/social security numbers and those in SSA's [Social Security Administration] database in order to properly credit earnings to employee records. Growers contend that the sizeable presence of illegal aliens implies a shortage of legal farmworkers. Their advocacy groups argue that growers would rather not employ unauthorized workers because doing so puts them at risk of incurring penalties. Farmworker advocates counter that crop producers prefer illegal to legal employees because the former are in a weaker bargaining position with regard to wages and working conditions. If the supply of illegal workers were curtailed, it is claimed, growers could adjust to a smaller legal workforce by introducing laborefficient technologies and management practices, and by raising wages, which, in turn, would entice more legal workers to become farmworkers. Grower advocates respond that further mechanization would be difficult for some crops and that substantially higher wages would make the U.S. industry uncompetitive in the world marketplace without expanding the legal farm labor force. These remain untested arguments, as perishable crop growers have rarely, if ever, operated without illegal aliens in their workforces."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL30395
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