From Blog.Chron.com, 23 Sept 2011.
Texas farmers fear an immigration measure moving through the Republican-dominated House of Representatives could make it much harder to recruit agricultural workers from Mexico and elsewhere outside the United States.
Under the “Legal Workforce Act,” drafted by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, employers would be required to screen future hires of their residency status through the federally operated online database E-Verify. The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the measure in a 22-13 vote along party lines. No Democrats supported the bill.
Opponents of mandating E-Verify worry the bill could dramatically narrow the pool of qualified — and willing — employees for seasonal farm labor.
“We pay fair wages; we just can’t find enough legal U.S. workers to come work in the fields,” Bruce Frasier, owner of Dixondale Farm in Carrizo Springs, Texas, said. Frasier’s onion farm sits 45 miles away from the Mexican border where multiple generations of families have come to work for his farm.
“Most of the people we’ve known for a long time,” Frasier said. “We’ve known them growing up — we sponsored their quinceañeras.
E-Verify is designed to root out illegal workers who use false documentation to obtain employment, but Frasier estimates that half of all agricultural migrant workers use fake IDs when registering for work.
Frasier began using E-Verify program at its inception 15 years ago, but doing so has diminished his applicant pool year by year, he said. To make up for the loss of new hires, Frasier now relies on outside labor contractors to provide a seasonal workforce.
With the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, proponents of the Legal Workforce Act argue that the crackdown on the illegal workforce would shore up much-needed jobs for struggling Americans. Agricultural associations however, are not so optimistic.
“The problem is that the average person in the United States would simply not do the menial labor that is performed by the workers from other countries,” Steve Pringle, legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, said.
The Texas Farm Bureau opposes Rep. Smith’s bill, and instead is asking for a guest worker program that allows non-U.S citizens temporary employment as seasonal agricultural workers. Lack of a guest worker program would harm domestic farmers and aid food suppliers from foreign nations with lax regulatory systems, said Mark Chamblee, a rose farmer from Tyler, Texas.
“We don’t know what we’re going to get yet,” Chamblee said. “If we get an E-Verify program and that is all we get, then it could have a very negative effect on agriculture.”