From FresnoBee.com, Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau, 4 Oct 2011.
Bill requires workers to prove work eligibility.
WASHINGTON – Advocates for farmers and farmworkers warned federal lawmakers Tuesday against a mandatory employee-verification program, underscoring the high hurdles ahead.
While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives pursues the E-Verify program, the Democratic-controlled Senate is leery. A hearing Tuesday seemed designed to demonstrate the Senate’s skepticism as well as E-Verify’s alleged dangers.
“The existing challenges we face in securing a stable work force will pale in comparison to the devastating impact of E-Verify legislation in the absence of a workable labor program,” Tom Nassif, president of the California-based Western Growers Association, told a Senate panel.
E-Verify is a voluntary program that about 250,000 employers use to electronically check eligibility to work in the United States. A House bill would make the program mandatory, a step that some states already have taken. California is not one of them.
Nassif joined Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, and others Tuesday in urging the Senate Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee to resist the House’s mandatory nationwide E-Verify proposal.
The powerful Democrat who leads the Senate panel, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, blasted the House’s E-Verify legislation as a “death sentence” for many U.S. farms. A motivated Schumer is well-positioned to impede the House bill.
Roughly 1.4 million farmworkers are employed on U.S. crop farms annually. Illegal immigrants account for as many as 60% or more of them, Ronald Knutson, a Texas A&M University emeritus professor, told the panel Tuesday.
Acknowledging the demographics of this population, some senators want to link employee verification to a broader agricultural guest-worker plan. So far, both proposals appear caught in the same immigration gridlock that has long stymied Congress.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said that next week she will introduce her latest version of the guest-worker program dubbed AgJobs. For the past decade, some lawmakers have proposed an AgJobs program to grant legal residency to more than 1 million foreign-born farmworkers and family members.