Farm worker immigration action intensifies as United Fresh comments

The Hagstrom Report
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa
The Hagstrom Report |

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, succeeded in getting an E-Verify amendment attached to appropriations bills last week as Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced a bill requiring the use of that employee eligibility system and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., announced plans to introduce an agricultural guestworker bill.

Meanwhile, the United Fresh Produce Association said a solution to agricultural immigration problems is necessary before E-Verify becomes mandatory.

E-Verify is an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

The House adopted by voice vote an amendment to add King’s amendment to prohibit the expenditure of federal funds by federal agencies for any new hires who have not been subjected to an E-Verify review. The King amendment was attached to seven different appropriations bills: Agriculture, Interior, Commerce/Justice/Science, Labor/Health and Human Services, Financial Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation/Housing Urban Development.

“Current law requires the federal government to use E-Verify to enhance enforcement of federal immigration law in all hirings,” said King. “However, it’s been brought to my attention that it isn’t consistent across the different departments and we need to ensure that it is.”

King’s office noted that the E-Verify system is operated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. E-Verify checks the social security numbers of newly hired employees against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records to determine work eligibility.

King’s immigration law enforcement amendment seeks to ensure that jobs within federal agencies are not being taken by aliens who are in the country illegally, his office said in an email.

Meanwhile, Smith introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 3711), which requires all U.S. employers to use E-Verify rather than relying on the paper-based I-9 system.

More than 740,000 American employers now use E-Verify and 83 percent of America’s employers support a mandatory electronic verification system, Smith said.

“Nearly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed,” Smith said. “Meanwhile, 7 million people are working in the United States illegally. By expanding the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers, this bill will ensure that jobs only go to legal workers.”

Reacting to Smith’s bill, Robert Guenther, the senior vice president of the United Fresh Produce Association said, “United Fresh encourages Congress to ensure that a comprehensive solution is achieved for agriculture prior to mandatory E-Verify legislation is mandated on the fresh produce industry.”

“This would include transitioning falsely documented workers to a legal status under appropriate conditions and create a workable new guest worker program that addresses the needs of labor intensive agriculture without unreasonable limitations on visas,” Guenther said.

“We strongly encourage Congress to introduce and consider agriculture immigration legislation prior to moving forward on mandatory E-Verify legislation. United Fresh will be hosting their annual Washington Conference Sept. 18-20 where immigration reform will be a major issue discussed with members of Congress and administration officials during the meetings.”

Goodlatte praised Smith’s bill, but said, “I soon plan to introduce the Agricultural Guestworker Act — or the AG Act — to create a workable agricultural guestworker program that works better for both American farmers and consumers.”

Goodlatte added, “The AG Act replaces the H-2A program with a more efficient and flexible guestworker program — known as H-2C — that is designed to meet the needs of the diverse agriculture industry. The H-2C program will be administered by the folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an agency that clearly understands the unique needs of America’s farm and ranch operations and the importance of getting perishable agricultural commodities to market in an efficient manner.”

“The AG Act will allow experienced unauthorized agricultural workers to continue working in agriculture by joining the H-2C guestworker program so that they can participate legally in the agricultural workforce,” Goodlatte said.

“The AG Act also provides farmers with much needed flexibility. Since not all agriculture jobs require the same level of skill and experience, the bill gives employers the opportunity to invest their time training workers for specialized or hard to fill jobs by allowing workers to stay for a longer period of time and provides flexible touchback requirements. The new guestworker program also serves the diverse interests of the agriculture industry by allowing the forestry industry, dairies, raw food processors, and other year-round agricultural employers to participate when adequate domestic labor cannot be found.

“Further, the AG Act ensures that the marketplace, not Washington, drives the agriculture industry. It offers workers and employers more choices in their employment arrangements, making it easier for workers to move freely throughout the marketplace, both to seek optimal working conditions and meet farmers’ fluctuating needs.

“The agricultural community has waited far too long for a workable guestworker program and it’s past time to enact a solution. When not enough Americans can be found to fill jobs, the AG Act ensures that American farmers have access to a reliable workforce to fill positions needed to keep their farms afloat. The House Judiciary Committee plans to move this bill soon so that farmers can continue growing our food and our economy with the assurance that their labor needs will be met.”


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