The United Fresh Produce Association is urging Congress to pump the brakes on just-introduced legislation that would eventually require all employers use the E-Verify system for checking the eligibility of all future hires.
“With the introduction of mandatory e-verify legislation today, United Fresh encourages Congress to ensure that a comprehensive solution is achieved for agriculture prior to mandatory e-verify legislation is mandated on the fresh produce industry,” United Fresh said in a statement.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 3711) on Sept. 8 that would require U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system. The bill was co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
Smith said in a news release that nearly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. “Meanwhile, seven million people are working in the United States illegally,” he said in the release. “By expanding the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers, this bill will ensure that jobs only go to legal workers.”
Fix the system
A comprehensive solution for agriculture, United Fresh said, would include moving falsely documented workers - common in agriculture - to a legal status under appropriate conditions. In addition, it would create a new guest worker program that meets the needs of labor intensive agriculture without unreasonable limitations on visas.
“We strongly encourage Congress to introduce and consider agriculture immigration legislation prior to moving forward mandatory e-verify legislation,” United Fresh said in the statement.
E-Verify is operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and checks the social security numbers of newly hired employees against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security records to check if they are eligible to work in the U.S.
The Legal Workforce Act creates a gradual phase-in of mandatory E-Verify, with employees performing “agricultural labor or services” subject to an E-Verify check within 30 months of the date of enactment, compared with a phase-in period of just six months for companies with more than 10,000 employees.
The bill also raises penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants in violation of the requirements of the bill, according to the release. The bill also creates a penalty for individuals (employees or employers) who knowingly submit false information to the E-Verify system.
The bill would repeal the current paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with a completely electronic work eligibility check.