Broetje Orchards in Washington State has agreed to pay a $2.25 million fine for employing illegal immigrants, which is one of the largest fines ever levied an agricultural entity. The case has spanned over four years and the penalty levied was for employing almost 950 people who weren't authorized to work in the U.S. according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit.
Broetje Orchards is a family ran business that grows apples and cherries on over 4,000 acres in eastern WA and employs over 1,000 permanent employees and almost 2,800 seasonal workers during harvest season. According to a Wall Street Journal article (here), when the issue was identified in 2012 the Company attempted to train and employ low-skilled worker in the U.S. legally, however, due to an agriculture labor shortage they hoped an overhaul of the country’s immigration system would enable their business to retain experienced workers.
This situation highlights a couple very important items for the agriculture industry. First, it is very imperative to make sure all requirements are met with respect to labor and immigration laws, especially in the agriculture industry which relies heavily on foreign sourced labor during peak seasonal times. Second, and possibly more important, is the dire need for Congress to address immigration reform.
Speaking specifically of the apple industry, Washington is the nation’s largest apple-growing state, and the industry hires thousands of workers each year to harvest and process the fruit. A large number of the workers come from Mexico and are in the U.S. illegally. Rather than hiring illegal immigrants, one option available to agriculture producers is the H-2A guest worker program. This program is most likely more expensive due to wage and administrative requirements, but it provides a means for agriculture employers who anticipate labor shortages of domestic workers. Once again, however, it is very imperative that all administrative requirements are met with this program to avoid any unwanted fines or other unforeseen punishments.