Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Arizona's mandatory E-Verify law, the press should turn its attention to reporting what actually happens when states require employers to verify the work eligibility of their new hires. Until now, most of the coverage has been focused on hypotheticals and "fears" of what mandatory E-Verify might do, rather than what it does do. For instance, E-Verify's effectiveness at driving illegal workers out of local labor markets has been mostly ignored by the media, despite hard facts. According to The Public Policy Institute of California, the percentage of illegal workers in Arizona has fallen by 17 percent since the 2007 E-Verify law was passed.
National Public Radio recently stumbled across a potentially great story, though I doubt anyone will pursue it. In NPR's May 25 story, "Georgia Farmers Brace For New Immigration Law," a Vidalia onion grower, R.T. Stanley Jr., tells the reporter that American locals walk away from jobs that pay $200 a day:
Stanley says experienced workers can earn as much as $200 a day. He says he's tried to hire locals to do the job — working in the fields eight hours or more clipping, bending and lifting in the oppressive Georgia heat.
'They just don't want to do this hard work. And they'll tell you right quick,' he says. 'I have 'em to come out and work for two hours and they said, 'I'm not doing this. It's too hard.'
Unfortunately, the reporter didn't witness any of what Stanley describes above, but wouldn't it be great if NPR or any other enterprising news organization assigned a reporter to cover his efforts to recruit local labor? My hunch is that there are at least a few people out of the 460,000 unemployed Georgians that would be willing to clip, bend, and lift for $200 a day. With the media spotlight on his labor needs, Stanley would surely find more effective recruitment channels.
I question the implication of this article that Georgians won't do hard work for decent wages. We know that 25 percent of all crop laborers in the U.S. are citizens (48 percent of crop laborers in the midwest are citizens), according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey. It seems a bit of stretch to believe that Stanley can't find any local citizen to take a job with him -- especially at $200/day.
Another possibility is that some or all of Stanley's tale is an exaggeration. Stanley's account to the reporter made it sound like local hires are walking away from $200-a-day jobs because they don't like hard work. But the $200/day salary is the high end of what "experienced" workers make, according to the story. Readers never learn what the local hires were offered. If they were offered less, the story would be different. Plenty of people will do hard work if they are fairly compensated for it, but few will do stoop labor for less than a living wage.
It is a shame that NPR didn't speak with the local workers Stanley referred to. Their perspective would have been interesting. Sadly, the perspective of legal workers forced to compete with illegal immigrants is often missing from today's immigration coverage.
The backdrop of the story is Georgia's new E-Verify law that requires every employer in the state with 10 or more employees to verify the work eligibility of their new hires. The Georgia Farm Bureau lobbied hard against E-Verify, but farmers are now going to have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
I hope a reporter spends some time with Stanley as he recruits a legal workforce locally or via the H-2A visa program. I would like to read a story about a worker happy to make up to $200 a day in this economy; or quotes from locals who refuse work for lower wages. I imagine readers would like to know if Stanley's low opinion of local workers is grounded in reality, or if he is crying onion tears over the loss of his cheap, illegal labor pool.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 4:11pm EDT