LITTLE ROCK — The agriculture industry will face an increasing labor shortage and consumers will see food prices soar if Congress does not pass comprehensive immigration reform, Poultry Federation President Marvin Childers said Tuesday.
“What I can tell you from visiting with the poultry companies in Arkansas is that we need employees,” Childers said during a conference call with reporters. “It’s obvious that our immigration system is broken. We all agree that we need to start with securing the border, but we need to find a way to make certain that the people that are here, that we get them on some path to citizenship.”
He said that if comprehensive reform does not happen, the price of food will be driven “completely out of reason for Arkansans and Americans.”
Childers said the poultry industry was one of the first industries to adopt of the E-Verify system for checking employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S., but he said the program has made it harder to find workers and has problems that need to be fixed, such as an inability to detect fraudulent documents and a lack of legal protection for employers who rely on the system.
President Barack Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. The Democratic-controlled Senate approved an immigration reform bill last year, but the issue has made little progress in the Republican-controlled House.
Childers said he regrets that party politics are part of the debate.
“I think what we’ve got to find some way to do is remove this from being a Democrat or a Republican issue. This ought to be an American issue,” he said.
“We need to find some way for there to be common ground. Whether you pass it in one comprehensive bill or whether you break it into six or eight, I think reasonable people ought to come to the table, and if it takes putting it into 10 bills, passing comprehensive immigration reform I think is an absolute necessity,” Childers said.
The Poultry Federation represents poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Arkansas is the second-largest poultry producer in the nation, behind Georgia.