Many farms in North Carolina would have to close down if use of the federal E-Verify program becomes obligatory before Congress has passed comprehensive immigration reform.
"Our greatest concern is that we won't have farm workers," North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten told Efe on Friday.
"It's urgent that immigration reform include a change of status for those already here so they can continue working legally, not with an amnesty, but with an effective program of work visas that ensure us the number of workers we need," he said.
The Farm Bureau, with more than 500,000 members, urged North Carolina lawmakers this week to pressure Washington to fix what it calls "a broken system."
The lobbying was partly a reaction to a survey taken by the bureau among farmers across the state.
The poll showed that 60 percent of farmers have problems finding qualified workers, while 30 percent reported losses over the past five years due to the immigrant situation.
But the study's most significant find was related to North Carolina's decision to require most employers to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm applicants' eligibility to work.
While 40 percent said obligatory use of E-Verify would force them to reduce operations, 18 percent said they would have to shut down and another 17 percent said they would shift to less labor intensive crops.
"We're talking about billions of dollares in losses to the state economy and thousands of jobs that will disappear," Wooten said.
"There aren't enough visas to satisfy the demand for temporary field hands required by farms across the country," Faylene Whitaker, owner of a farm in Randolph County, told Efe.
"We're asking the state not to start applying the E-Verify program until immigration reform has been passed," she said. EFE