by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/Asianjournal.com
SAN FRANCISCO (Via teleconference) — A conference call with Washington experts last March 19 (10:00 am PST/1:00 EST) opened with a discussion about recent employer-sanctioning immigration legislation and how businesses and employers have responded to its impact, as well as E-Verify, the federal government’s online employment eligibility verification system.
Guest speakers were Angelo I. Amador, Director of Immigration Policy for the US Chamber of Commerce, Craig Regelbrugge, Vice
President, Government Relations and Research for the American Nursery and Landscape Association and Chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, and Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the CATO Institute and author of Electronic Employment Eligibility Verfication: Franz Kafka’s Solution to Illegal Immigration. Each shared valuable information and inputs about the current immigration legislation and the role of employers in making the law work for the business and their workers.
Saving the agricultural industry
“The agricultural sector is in a precarious situation,” said Regelbrugge. With more than half of the estimated 1.6 million agricultural workforce unauthorized for employment in the industry, farm employers are scared of recent measures made against illegal immigrant workers. “They (farms) have become sitting ducks and easy targets for raids,” explained Regelbrugge.
Also, the past several years have seen farmers and ranchers throughout the US seeking reform of the H-2A temporary and seasonal alien agricultural worker program and years of congressional testimonies before both the Senate and House Immigration Subcommittees. There is bipartisan recognition of the shortage of legal agricultural workers in the US. The current H-2A program needs substantial reform before most agricultural employers can effectively use it.
The effect is hurting the seasonal agricultural economy, as employers now plant and harvest less, downsizing, while workers move to new locations. “We must take a broader base on reform,” Regelbrugge said and added, “Mass dislocation and deportation is not the way to go.”
Regelbrugge believes that there should be clear and simple rules for employers to follow. “We should be creating a mechanism for people to come out of the shadows.” In California alone, it is estimated that 450,000-500,000 workers are employed each year for the very rich, very labor intensive agricultural industry.
E-Verify, then known as “Basic Pilot,” grew out of the requirement to verify the work-eligibility of workers. A joint project of the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), it is an electronic employment eligibility verification system created in 1997 and implemented in all 50 states. It is voluntary for all employers except the more than 200,000 federal contractors required by Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
However, recent changes were announced after immigration reform bills failed to pass Congress. These included requirements for all US employers to use E-Verify. DHS estimates such an expansion could cost the agency about $400 million per year. E-Verify is currently free for employers, but that may change and DHS may shift the burden of paying for this system to employers.
Also, such expansion would create problems as far as data is concerned. According to Harper, the database of the SSA and DHS is not up to date and is in error by 4.1 percent. There is always the possibility that a legal worker may receive a “no match” or non-confirmation for his or her eligibility to work. “This will only increase identity frauds, will drive illegal immigrants into law-breaking,” said Harper and added, “and will cause more problems for US citizens.”
“The system is far from perfect, there are problems in the federal system,” said Regelbrugge.
Pushing for reform
History shows how hardworking immigrants became the driving force in turning the US into a prosperous nation. However, immigration laws for both punish the federal and state levels are confusing a lot of business owners and most are framing employers as the problem.
“A lot of these laws do not make economic sense,” said Amador. He believes that there should be a culture of activism to push for comprehensive immigration reform to increase security and open the pathway to legalization for undocumented workers already contributing to the economy. Another solution is to increase the continuity and expansion of H-1B, L-1, and EB visas for professionals and highly valued workers.
Harper believes that a mandatory national electronic employment eligibility verification system will not only be costly but will also be unable to prevent illegal immigration. It would deny a sizable percentage of law-abiding American citizens the ability to work legally.
Creating such system would require a national identification (ID) system, which will cost about $20 billion and hundreds of millions every year to operate. Harper also wrote in his policy analysis that “Even if it were free, the country should reject a national ID system. It would cause law-abiding American citizens to lose more of their privacy as government records about them grow and are converted to untold new purposes.”
Moderated by Odette Keeley of New America Media (NAM), the bi-monthly conference call, Access Washington, aims to help the ethnic media track immigration reform. The calls are organized in partnership with the National Immigration Forum, the Center for Community Change, the Asian American Justice Center and the National Council of la Raza, and funded by Public Interest Projects.