Buried in this morning's story on panic amongst the nations farmers over the Smith E-Verify bill was this important news:

In a May letter to the members of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Stallman, the president of the American Farm Bureau, cited a Labor Department survey placing the percentage of illegal workers in the fields at more than 50 percent. Other groups say the figure is closer to 70 percent. Denying farmers that labor supply, Mr. Stallman wrote, would cost them $5 billion to $9 billion annually.

Mr. Smith's bill has attracted more solid support from nonagricultural business leaders, opening a divide between them and agricultural interests. Many nonfarm businesses have concluded that some form of employee verification is inevitable.

National organizations of restaurant owners and home builders gave their backing. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which unites Latino businesses in Mr. Smith's district that have often been at odds with him, is leaning toward endorsing the bill, said Ramiro A. Cavazos, the president of the chamber.

Still, Mr. Smith, whose district includes parts of suburban San Antonio and Austin as well as a large part of the nearby Hill Country, recently acknowledged the surge of worry in rural areas. He said he would soon introduce a separate bill to "address the needs of the agriculture industry," either proposing changes to the current federal temporary farm worker program, known as H-2A, or offering a new guest worker program.



Linking enforcement with guest worker reforms is critical. Just calling for more enforcement against employers is irresponsible if it threatens vital industries. Employers who can demonstrate a genuine need for immigrant workers should have a system that allows them to do so. Hopefully, Lamar Smith has gotten this message. And he ought to remember there are many industries that can readily demonstrate that not enough US workers are available.

By the way, opponents of any type of "amnesty" who are genuine when they say that they're not against immigration - just illegal immigration - should be cheering guest worker reforms. By creating an orderly, workable system to sponsor guest workers, the incentives to immigrate illegally would decrease dramatically. Unfortunately, I suspect that when push comes to shove, most of the antis out there just want to stop immigration all together regardless of how the immigrant gets here. I hope I am surprised.