Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Farm Bureau said Wednesday that a majority of farmers statewide are having trouble hiring qualified employees, and they asked lawmakers for support with immigration reform.
Farm Bureau officials and scores of farmers rallied outside the legislature, saying increased restrictions on migrant workers are limiting their ability to grow crops.
"We have to have the Spanish labor. Most all our employees are (Latino)," said Danny McConnell, a fifth-generation farmer in Hendersonville.
McConnell said his family farm usually grows 23 fruit and vegetable crops, but he is planting only four or five this year because he can't find enough workers to tend the fields.
State lawmakers passed a law two years ago requiring North Carolina employers with more than 25 non-seasonal workers to verify employment eligibility, and Farm Bureau officials said talk of tightening immigration restrictions further could put up to 10,000 farms statewide – 20 percent of the total – out of business.
"It already has had unintended consequences," Peter Daniel, assistant to the president for the Farm Bureau, said of the E-Verify rules, "and there are some in the General Assembly who would like to expand that."
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said lawmakers are trying to balance other concerns with the needs of farmers.
"We're making sure they can survive and also making sure we're not a magnet area for bringing illegals into this state," Hise said.
Contrary to those who argue that undocumented immigrants take jobs away from unemployed Americans, farmers contend migrant workers are the only ones willing and able to do agricultural work.
"If you told me today I could no longer get those (migrant) people, I'd have to have to quit growing tobacco. It's that simple," Pamlico County farmer Scottie Whitford said.
Daniel called on state lawmakers to hold off on adopting any more immigration-related regulations and let the federal government handle immigration reform.
Hise said patience is running thin at the General Assembly when it comes to immigration issues.
"I think we're dealing with a Congress and a White House that's probably incapable of renaming a post office as they move forward, but that doesn't stop our needs here as a state to be able to do what's in the best interest of North Carolina," he said.