A national mandatory E-Verify bill pending in the U.S. House and a similar bill introduced in the U.S. Senate could cause a devastating labor shortage for America’s fresh produce industry. Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif took that message to Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, where he testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

“Farming is a vital economic engine that produces jobs and a secure domestic food supply. The national E-Verify bill will deliver a fatal blow to our fresh produce industry, and consequently cripple an entire sector of our struggling economy while putting our country at risk for food shortages and higher food prices,” Nassif said.

Out of the 1.6 million people who perform farm work in the U.S., as many as 1.2 million may be undocumented. While the agriculture industry has advocated for a practical solution to its labor crisis—to secure a legal work force—for more than 15 years, it still does not have a workable program to hire the labor farmers need. Mandatory E-Verify legislation — H.R. 2885 and S. 1196 — without a new and reasonable agricultural worker program, could devastate farms across the country. With irrefutable evidence that Americans are unwilling to plant and harvest labor-intensive crops such as fruits and vegetables, farmers will not be able to find the labor they need, and Americans will be forced to rely on imported food.

These very farms play an important role in fueling the nation’s economy. Studies demonstrate that every California agricultural job creates two to three non-farm jobs.

“E-Verify by itself is a job killer, not just for farms, but for the millions of jobs farms support in other industries,” Nassif said.