Farmers, farmworker groups react to possible E-Verify future
Amid controversy over this week's efforts to revive a federal E-Verify program, farmers are finding themselves with a slight reprieve.
The bill, which came back on Tuesday when Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Legal Workforce Act, would require businesses in the U.S. to verify the immigration status of all new hires by running their information through a government database.
Farmers in California and across the nation have long railed against such a requirement, arguing that it would essentially eradicate their workforce. They also maintain that the current system for hiring legal immigrant workers is too costly and difficult to use, and that, even with the nation's unemployment rate still high, few Americans would be willing to take low-paying, physically taxing jobs laboring in a field.
Smith told reporters earlier this week that those concerns are why the bill includes an exception for employers in agriculture: They would have three years to implement such checks, and farm operators and other agricultural employers would not have to verify the legal status of previously hired seasonal workers.
On Wednesday, however, farmworker advocates argued that the bill would do more harm than good.
In a joint statement, Farmworker Justice and the United Farm Workers claimed that if the bill passed, "undocumented farmworkers would feel tied to their employers, and would be reluctant to challenge illegal or unfair conduct for fear of losing their job and the ability to work."
"[T]he much larger problem is that this bill would allow -- indeed, encourage -- employers to evade the law by using farm labor contractors to hire workers and thus claim that they don't employ any farmworkers," the statement added.
-- P.J. Huffstutter
Photo: A farmworker harvests table grapes at a California vineyard. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times