E-Verify Author Offers Farm Guest Worker Bill

September 10, 2011 07:25 AM

The proposed legislation by Texas congressman Lamar Smith would create a non-immigrant H–2C work visa program for agricultural workers.

Source: Western United Dairymen Weekly Update

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill Sept. 7 to overhaul the existing H-2A guest worker program. Smith is author of a bill that would require all employers nationwide to use a federal electronic system, known as E-Verify, to confirm that new hires are legally authorized to work in the U.S.  
Called the “American Specialty Agriculture Act,’’ Smith’s proposed legislation would create “a nonimmigrant H–2C work visa program for agricultural workers.”
Smith framed his plan as an alternative to granting legal status to illegal immigrants already in the country, the approach President Obama supports. Smith said his program would “provide growers who want to do the right thing with a reliable source of legal labor” and would also “protect the livelihoods of American workers and the rights of guest workers.” Many major farm organizations, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, said Smith’s program failed to meet their needs.
Smith’s proposal for a new program he is calling H-2C would shift management of the guest worker program from the Department of Labor, where he said farmers face a “culture of hostility,” to the Department of Agriculture. It would require only that employers attest that they had offered jobs to American workers, removing time-consuming procedural hurdles that farmers said had not helped attract Americans to strenuous farm work. It would allow binding arbitration in guest worker contracts, which he said would reduce “frivolous litigation.” 
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) is offering an alternative bill. In an interview, with the Wall Street Journal, Lungren said he would introduce his bill in the House next week. He said his talks with California growers had “proved to me you can’t get where we need to by reforming the H-2A program.” Under his program, foreign migrant workers would not be tied to specific farmers as they are under Smith’s plan, but they would be issued work documents allowing them to come to the U.S. for 10 months a year to work for any agricultural employer.

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