House Republicans are pushing harder for mandated use of E-Verify, and agriculture advocates are pushing back.

Republicans appear to be on the verge of introducing mandatory E-Verify for all employers, said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.

In January, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif. introduced H.R. 282, a bill which would require that the use of E-Verify for federal contracts is applied to all of the contractor’s or subcontractor’s employees — not just to those performing the contract.

E-Verify is a Web-based system run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Social Security Administration. The system is designed to allow employers to verify employment eligibility of job applicants.

In a Feb. 10 hearing on E-Verify by the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Gallegly — chairman of that subcommittee — said one key to solving the problem of illegal immigration is removing “job magnets.”

“With nearly 14 million unemployed Americans, removing the magnets is more important than ever,” he said. “The E-Verify program helps to do just that.”

Lawmakers should consider the unique challenges agriculture faces before putting more demands on growers, said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery and Landscaping Association, Washington, D.C., and co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.

“If done piecemeal, stepped-up worksite enforcement, including mandatory E-Verify, will bring about unintended and likely irreversible structural changes to American agricultural sectors that require significant labor,” he said.

The results of that approach, he said, will be reduced U.S. production of high-value, labor-intensive crops, lower farm employment, and the potential loss of millions of agriculture-dependent jobs.

Regelbrugge said agricultural employers can accept stepped-up immigration enforcement if it is accompanied by improved access to a legal work force.

With upwards of 75% of the labor force lacking legal status, aggressive enforcement without broader immigration reform would cripple the agricultural work force, he said.

What’s more, Regelbrugge said there is no evidence that unemployed Americans are willing to do farm labor.

Historically accounting for just 2 percent of farm labor needs, Regelbrugge said that the H-2A agricultural guest worker program is in “virtual collapse” because of more restrictive rules applied to the program March 15.

Heavier U.S. reliance on imported food will be a consequence of an enforcement-only approach, he said.

Gasperini said growers need a solution that gives them legal workers.

“Any movement to make E-Verify mandatory without some ‘bridge’ to allow us to keep existing workers will be disaster for American fruit, vegetable, dairy, and other labor-intensive production,” Gasperini said. “We are literally pushing our food production offshore.”

If the House does pass a bill containing mandatory E-Verify, Gasperini said agriculture advocates will work with Senate lawmakers to make sure agriculture’s needs are accounted for.

The Packer, a division of Vance Publishing