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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: McCrory to farmers: Drop dead

Farmers began harvesting the 2013 apple crop last week. If they have trouble getting help, they can thank Gov. Pat McCrory.

The first-term governor last week vetoed a bill passed by the General Assembly that had wisely retreated on a 2011 immigration bill that requires costly, time-consuming E-verify of farmworkers.
No county had a greater stake in the immigration bill than Henderson County, which has a $142 million per year farm economy that relies heavily on harvesting with human hands. The county's 557 farms generate an annual payroll of $18.5 million and hire some 2,500 seasonal workers.
Farm advocates here have tried to persuade Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that would ensure a steady supply of farm labor.
Congress has failed utterly in its effort, and there's little hope that a promising reform measure in the U.S. Senate will pass in the House if it's taken up at all. The federal inaction means that the state Legislature ought to watch out for agriculture interests across the state or at least do no harm. The Legislature was trying to help by easing the E-verify requirement for farm labor; with his veto McCrory summarily clipped the lifeline.
Farmers have found a way around a way around the E-verify requirement by sharing crews that have already been checked or contracting with packing houses for orchard labor. But in a year of a full crop, Henderson County could see a labor shortage.
"Within the community of farmworkers there's pretty good communication," said Mark Williams, CEO of AgHC, the farm promotion agency. "Word gets around. If there's a greater risk of deportation from one state to the other, they're going to go where there's little risk. Not that farmers are about trying to hire illegally. Farmers are in favor of a legal work force."
In a video posted on line McCrory defended the veto.
"It could take away jobs from North Carolinians and given them to illegal aliens," he said. "The bill would have tripled, from 90 days to nine months, the E-verify exemption for seasonal workers. This bill was originally designed to help our farmers. But what was created was a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, that many businesses could abuse through the state at the expense of our North Carolina workers."
If McCrory was concerned about the "loophole," why didn't he help shape the bill to close it? The aroma rising from this ill-considered move is of politics, not sound policy. McCrory and the new Republican-led Legislature boast that they're the strongest pro-business team in modern times. McCrory can't say he's on that team in this case. In vetoing the bill to avert a potential farm labor shortage, the governor has shown he doesn't understand or appreciate a major segment of the state's economy.