The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is touting a new report from the American Farm Bureau that attempts to respond to House Speaker John Boehner's recent statement that "immigration reform" is in jeopardy until Pres. Obama enforces existing immigration laws. The report's supposed shock factor is based on the claim that food prices in the United States will increase 5-6% over the next 5 years with only an enforcement-first strategy.
To put the increase into perspective, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices rose at an annualized rate of 2.6% between 2007 and 2012.
The report from the American Farm Bureau doesn't say whether their projected increase is annualized, but one would think if it was, the report would say so to make the increase seem more significant. If it's not annualized, then it's much lower than what consumers faced from 2007-2012, and there's no cause for alarm.
The report also presented two other scenarios. One is an amnesty without a guest worker program for agriculture, which would result in a 2-3% increase in food prices. The other is "comprehensive immigration reform" with both amnesty and a guest worker program, but the report fails to indicate how that would impact prices. The point trying to be made is that an amnesty with a guest worker program for agriculture is the best scenario to keep food prices down.
Interestingly, the report fails to predict a scenario for a guest worker program with no amnesty or a guest worker program combined with enforcement. The American Farm Bureau insists on tying its desired guest worker program to amnesty.
But even if the 5-6% increase in food prices is realized, let's not forget what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said about S.744 - the Schumer-Rubio-Obama amnesty bill that was endorsed by both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau. The CBO determined that S.744 would decrease wages by 0.1%, having the worst effect on low-wage earners, and increase unemployment in the first 10 years. So, if reform passes, your grocery bill might not rise, but the country overall will be in a worse place.
Much of the American Farm Bureau's rationale stems from the fact that 16.5% of the agricultural workforce is illegal, and an enforcement-only strategy would cause the industry to "lose most, if not all," of this workforce. Further, they assume that other industries will also lose part of their labor force (because they employ illegal aliens, too) and legal farm workers will move on to those other industries since those jobs are "more attractive." The American Farm Bureau assumes, however, that production is tied only to labor supply. They fail to consider whether farmers will find other ways to grow and harvest their crops, or whether raising wages for existing legal workers would increase production.
The report does acknowledge that a program exists to help farmers employ a legal workforce. The H-2A program provides anUNLIMITED number of guest workers specifically for agriculture, but even we at NumbersUSA believe that the system is cumbersome. But instead of fixing its imperfections, the American Farm Bureau insists on comprehensive reform that includes amnesty and massive increases in foreign workers for other industries. This exemplifies the unholy alliance between big business, tech, agriculture, and the pro-amnesty groups.
The H-2A program already serves as a foundation for a workable program for farmers. The North Carolina Growers Association - the largest user of H-2As - has full confidence in the program. They call it "a viable solution to the perpetual labor shortage faced by today's farmers" and say it provides a "workforce that is legal, reliable, and ready to ensure that crops are planted, maintained, and harvested in a timely fashion."
There have been several attempts to make the H-2A program work better for farmers, including past legislation written by current House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Sadly, though, this report seems to indicate that the American Farm Bureau thinks its only path to a workable guest worker program is to pair it with amnesty.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Feb 19th 2014 @ 3:33pm EST