Paul Wenger tells congressional committee, “E-Verify without a workable, economical way to ensure a legal agricultural work force will be a disaster for American agriculture.”
Source: California Farm Bureau news release
Focusing on the lack of a workable, effective program to allow immigrant workers to earn legal authorization to work on U.S. farms and ranches, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation told Congress today that without such a program, passage of a proposed employment-verification rule would severely disrupt harvests of locally produced food.
California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger testified in Washington, D.C., at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. Congress has been considering a proposal to require all employers to check employees’ work status with a database known as the E-Verify system. Farmers rely on an immigrant work force and say many of their employees might not qualify to work under E-Verify, even though the employees have worked in this country and become part of their communities.
“E-Verify without a workable, economical way to ensure a legal agricultural work force will be a disaster for American agriculture,” Wenger told the committee, adding that experience has shown that “there is no realistic prospect of a domestic work force for agriculture, even with current high unemployment rates.”
As the U.S. labor force has grown older, more urban and focused on year-round jobs with predictable work hours, Wenger said, “our native-born seek other jobs outside the agriculture sector.” That means that farms and ranches rely on hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers—and experts estimate many do not have legal authorization to work in the U.S.
“The daunting reality is that a true solution must be capable of converting or replacing these workers with legally authorized workers,” Wenger said, noting that the existing immigration program for agriculture, known as H-2A, has proven inadequate. Less than 5 percent of the current agricultural work force is employed through H-2A.
“We support improving the H-2A program, but that cannot be the only solution,” Wenger said. “The closer a new program comes to replicating the way the farm labor force needs to move among employers and crops based on seasons and the weather, the more likely it will be able to meet the needs of farmers and farm employees.”
While a workable agricultural immigration program must succeed for farmers who grow perishable crops, he said, it must also benefit dairy farms, livestock ranches, nurseries and other employers with year-round needs, and must accommodate the large, experienced work force already employed on farms and ranches.
“Any solution must be practical and allow current workers to step out of the shadows to do the work that is so important to feeding our nation and the world,” Wenger said, especially long-tenured and highly skilled employees and those with close family members who are U.S. citizens. A workable agricultural immigration program, he said, must recognize that “many of our work force want and need the ability to come to the U.S., work on our farms and ranches, and return to their home country.”
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 74,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.