E-Verify, Immigration, Legislation

Tampa Bay Farmers React to Defeat of Immigration Proposal

From TBO.com, Tampa Bay Online,  4 May 2011.

The Florida Senate’s rejection of a proposal to fine employers for hiring illegal immigrants was greeted with relief by the agricultural community, which relies on immigrants to work their fields. Farmers say the federal government already requires them to check immigration status of their workers.

The proposed bill would have involved the state in immigration issues, much like Arizona, but the measure was voted down by the Senate yesterday, and may have effectively killed immigration legislation in Florida this year.

The Senate bill was based largely on an amendment sponsored by Sen. JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican and grower. It would have required employers to use the federal E-Verify system to determine if job applicants are legal residents.

The E-Verify system is an Internet system that employers use that can match an employee’s paperwork with information available to Social Security and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website says most employers in Arizona and Mississippi are required to use the system.

Employers submit information from an employment verification form through the online system to determine whether what’s on the form matches what the government has on file, the site says.

The failed bill also would have required police to make a “reasonable effort” to determine the immigration status of people who have been arrested and booked into jail. And it would require that illegal immigrants convicted of nonviolent crimes be referred to federal officials for deportation to their home countries.

Agriculture is dependent on foreign labor to plant, harvest and work the crops, said Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

“We can’t hire locally, as much as we’d like to,” he said. “Agriculture in general is dependent on foreign workers.”

Any impact on agriculture can spread to related industries including packing houses, fertilizer and chemical sales and farm equipment, he said.

“It’s also the people who make the boxes,” Campbell said, “and the people who drive the trucks.”

Farmers already have to be careful to examine documentation for workers. “You have to show documentation to be able to work,” he said.

Matt Parke of Parkesdale Farms in Plant City said farmers now are required to have immigrant migrant workers fill out papers for the federal government.

“They all have to have papers,” he said this morning. “We can’t hire them unless they do.”

Up until a few years ago, if there was a problem with a migrant worker’s paperwork, it would have taken weeks, maybe months, before immigration officials would get back to farmers about it, he said.

“They’ve been cracking down real hard the past couple of years,” he said. “Now, they get back to us within a couple of days.

“If they are not legal,” he said, “we can’t hire them.”

Source: TBO.com, Tampa Bay Online, “Tampa Bay farmers react to defeat of immigration proposal,” 4 May 2011.

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