Worker Law Worries Industry Leaders
The North Coast farm industry, which traditionally relied heavily on both legal and illegal immigrants, are increasingly getting worried about a proposal by Republican Congressmen requiring all employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers electronically.
According to industry leaders, the effect of mandating the program called #-Verify without restructuring and simplifying the process for legally hiring skilled Mexican farmworkers would weaken the agriculture industry in Sonoma County.
According to Steve Dutton, a Sonoma County Farm Bureau member and also a wine-grape grower, such move would have devastating effects to Sonoma County’s economy.
Dutton revealed that the current H2A program of the federal government, which allows the use of foreign workers by U.S. employers to fill temporary agricultural jobs that cannot be occupied by U.S. workers, is very cumbersome, too bureaucratic and time consuming. It will not be able to satisfy the employment demand that comes from making E-Verify mandatory.
He said, “They cannot have an E-Verify program go into effect without an agriculture-jobs program. There needs to be a program to bring guys here from Mexico to work in agriculture-related jobs.”
At present, E-Verify is a voluntary Web-based program. It allows U.S. employers to verify the eligibility status of their newly hired workers by cross-checking their Social Security and alien identification numbers using records found at Social Security and Department of Homeland Security. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, wanted to make E-Verify a mandatory program.
According to recent data from E-Verify, around 214 employers in Mendocino, Sonoma, and Lake County already use the voluntary verification program. The companies that use the program include retail businesses, professional and government services. Only a couple of agricultural employers are using it.