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New E-verify bill digs up old questions: Should farmers be required to only hire documented workers?

Migrant farm workers from Mexico harvest organic spinach while working at the Grant Family Farms.
Migrant farm workers from Mexico harvest organic spinach while working at the Grant Family Farms.
John Moore/Getty Images

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In an effort to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Congress is debating the Legal Workforce Act, a bill that would require farm workers to use the federal E-Verify database to confirm an employee's legal status. The bill, introduced this summer by Rep. Lamar Smith, (R-Texas), has gained support from conservatives who say illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans. Not so, says the American Farm Bureau. Even with one of the highest unemployment rates in our history, they contend that farmers can't find enough documented workers willing to pick crops. They point to Georgia, which sent convicted criminals to work the fields after an anti-illegal immigrant law emptied the fields and orchards of its workers. The convicts refused to come back because the job was too hard and now the state’s farming is in jeopardy. Opponents of the law argue that using E-Verify would make it difficult, if not impossible, to farm and they want the bill to let them bring foreign guest workers into the U.S. Such a program would require employers to advertise the available jobs to legal residents and prove that no one here will take them. Employers also must pay the guest workers a government-regulated wage and provide free housing and transportation. Is that a fair compromise? And is it a myth that California’s agriculture can’t stay in business without illegal workers?


Rep. Dan Lungren, (R-Gold River), member of the House Judiciary Committee and co-sponsor of the Legal Workforce Act; he is drafting an amendment to the bill that would allow farmers to hire foreign guest workers

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies

Paul Schlegel, policy director with the American Farm Bureau