WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2015 - Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the Republican presidential race, called for nationwide use of the E-Verify system to check the legal status of workers and deportation of illegal immigrants, policies that could have far-reaching implications for agriculture, which relies heavily on immigrant labor in fruit, vegetable, meat and dairy production. 

Trump, who also called for tripling the number of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers, posted a broad outline of his immigration policy on his web site this weekend. He told the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, that the mass deportation of immigrants, including families, was essential although he did not include the deportation proposal in his list. 

Trump also expanded on his pledge that he would force Mexico to pay for building a wall along the U.S. border. His proposals would include impounding all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats, increase fees on all border crossing cards and NAFTA worker visas. The policy also says tariffs and foreign aid cuts are options. 

“The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage,” according to Trump’s web site. “Nearly half of all immigrants and their US-born children currently live in or near poverty, including more than 60 percent of Hispanic immigrants.”

Agricultural production would be devastated by his proposals, industry officials said.  

“Trump’s statements that FIRST build the fence and impose strict employer sanctions--- THEN deport everyone not properly documented--- THEN put in place some almost impossible-to-pass entry program for immigrants and workers would cause major changes in US agriculture,” Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said in an email.

Because so many farmworkers are believed to be using false documentation, farm groups strongly oppose a mandatory E-Verify program unless Congress unless it is part of a broader immigration plan that includes an expansion of agricultural visa programs to make it easier for farms to bring in legal workers. 

“Nationwide mandatory E-Verify, unless paired with stabilizing labor reforms and a better visa program, would severely damage America’s agricultural sector and threaten our food stability,” said Craig Regelbrugge, who has led efforts to address agricultural immigration issues.

Regelbrugge said that several other Republican candidates “are well grounded on immigration policy and politics, and not so susceptible to taking the debate toward the lowest common denominator.”

Regelbrugge is senior vice president of AmericanHort, which represents the nurse and horticulture business.

A Fox News poll conducted Aug. 11-13 showed Trump favored by 25 percent of likely Republican primary voters, followed by 12 percent for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, another hard-liner on immigration policy.

(Updated Aug. 17, 8 p.m.)

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