Employment immigration is a topic of immense concern to California farmers, who believe the only way they can stay in business is to hire foreign guest workers to keep up with the demands of their work. However, there is a pending bill in Congress that would most likely defeat the farmers’ intent. The bill would require use of E-Verify, a federal database designed to check on an employee’s legal status. Some in Congress believe illegal aliens are taking jobs away from American citizens. Farmers disagree and are fighting for temporary work permits for foreign laborers.
Farmers complain they cannot find American workers willing to pick crops and tend livestock. They say there is not another labor force available to take the place of undocumented workers, and without them, their farms will fail. A corollary bill gives farmers three years to phase in E-Verify, but farmers say that’s not enough. Another proposed amendment allows foreign guest workers to enter the U.S. legally for 10 months each year, provided they return home for two months.
There is already a guest worker program in the United States, but critics say it does not function as intended. Under that program, H-2A, farmers must first advertise the jobs to U.S. residents. If not enough respond, H2-A applies, but farmers must pay for the workers’ lodging and transportation. Farmers say by the time they figure out how many foreign workers they need, there is not enough time left to recruit them. As a result, the program goes largely unused.
The E-Verify debate has stalled due to the debt ceiling crisis and other pressing matters, though it still important. One issue is that many say the various amendments proposed would not help undocumented workers already in the country. Farmers want some protection for the foreign workers already here, albeit illegally, who have helped them build their businesses. Many say the current bill will only penalize the people the industry depends on.
There appears to be no easy answer to this employment immigration debate, and California farmers feel stuck in the middle. If the proposed laws pass, they believe employers will simply pay workers in cash. They say that will do no one any good. Employers seeking to use foreign workers would do well to talk with a California attorney well versed in immigration law to offer them support and guidance when navigating employment procedures.