California Farmers Weigh In On E-Verify

E-verify There is some talk of making the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) E-Verify program mandatory for all employers. Currently, a handful of states have made it mandatory for government agencies to use the program and tens of thousands of private companies voluntarily use the program. E-Verify uses various pieces of personal information to verify whether or not a potential employee is eligible to work in the U.S. Social security numbers, birthdates, first and last names are cross-checked between a DHS and SSA database and a verification is sent back to the employer, all electronically over the internet.

Historically, a large percentage of illegal immigrants have filled positions in America’s agriculture industry. California is no exception. If farmers in California are required to use the E-Verify system, they fear it could be the end of their industry as many workers who support the California are undocumented. Estimates range from 30 to 80 percent of workers who fill positions in the California agriculture industry, depending on the agenda. Either way, if that many employees in an industry were suddenly barred from working, it would have staggering affects. Thomas Nassif, President and CEO of Irvine, California’s Western Growers, an agricultural trade organization, has said, “To say we’re going to use E-Verify without giving you legal means to citizenship, the message there is, ‘We want (consumers) to buy foreign food.’” And United Farm Workers spokesperson, Maria Machuca, bluntly stated, “If you deport all those farm workers, it’s basically the collapse of the agricultural industry.”

Justifications for allowing undocumented workers to continue working in the U.S. range from the idea that forcing farmers to pay competitive wages would increase food costs to the idea that American’s just don’t want to work menial-labor jobs. Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, a powerful legislator who has been pushing to mandate E-Verify for all employers has criticized these justifications, saying, “Statements that Americans are not willing to do these jobs demean the hardworking Americans who actually do this work on a daily basis. Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for jobs.” The U.S. government has made attempts to address the demand for agricultural workers such as the H2-A visa, which allows temporary seasonal workers to enter the country to assist farmers. However, the H2-A visa program is widely criticized for not allowing for fluctuations in crop readiness and harvest times, hurting farmers with wait times and cumbersome paperwork.

In California, there is a bill that many farmers and their supporters are hoping will pass known as the AgJobs Bill. This bill will give a pathway to citizenship for undocumented agricultural workers who have been working in the industry, come forward, and pay a fine. Many farmers and agricultural industry advocates have expressed that they wouldn’t object to mandating E-Verify if the AgJobs bill would pass. While California is boasts a large agriculture industry, mandating E-Verify would have a ripple effect across the country and such legislation as AgJobs is not currently being considered on a federal level.