Friday, July 15, 2011

Movin' to the country, gonna rot a lot of peaches

Sometime this summer the PA House State Government Committee is expected to host a series of hearings on a bunch of immigration issues. That's going to be a blast.

What has the experience of other states taught us about state attempts to enforce immigration? In a word, don't do it. (I know that's not a word. I was being ironical.)

Some state legislatures took a pass on excessive immigration enforcement bills, but Georgia dove into the deep end of the pool with a new law that implemented Arizona-style "papers please" policing and that forces employers to use the federal E-Verify database program, which the federal government itself hasn't mandated.

So what's happening in Georgia? Crops are rotting because farms don't have the workers they need. From Jay Bookman (who, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Ray Romano) at the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry...

The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.

I need not remind you of the importance of farming here in Pennsylvania, including dairy farms, fruit orchards, and mushroom fields. (And I just reminded you by typing that sentence.)

The agricultural industry in Oregon isn't waiting around for something bad to happen before reacting. Business groups there have already created The Coalition for a Working Oregon to advocate for reasonable immigration policies that are good for state economies.

The Center for American Progress, meanwhile, has outlined the costs of state enforcement of immigration by simply saying "your state can't afford it." The center notes the costs of enforcement, litigation, and economic loss. It's been well-documented that Arizona has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business since the passage of SB 1070.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who leads the charge on xenophobic, anti-immigrant legislation at the state General Assembly, calls his package of bills the "national security begins at home" package. He'd be better off calling it the "sabotaging our economy begins at home" package. State level immigration enforcement is an economic suicide pact.

The onus is on the business community in Pennsylvania to step up before it's too late. Are they going to stand up for Pennsylvania's economy? Or will they shrink from the fight?