POLITICS

Farmworker Advocacy Group Says Agricultural Business Depends on Undocumented Labor

** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 2 ** Migrant guest worker Poli Resendiz Ponce, of Hidalgo, Mexico, removes the meat from crabs at Russell Hall Seafood, Wednesday June 28, 2006, in Fishing Creek, Md. Crab processors say it's an easy decision, either hire Mexican workers to pick crabs or close up shop. The only thing they're unsure of is whether they'll be allowed to hire employees next year on seasonal work visas. A two-year extension of the visa program that allows them to staff Eastern Shore crab houses with workers to pry lump meat out of crabs expires this year, and an extension is still pending in Congress.(AP/Kathleen Lange)

** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 2 ** Migrant guest worker Poli Resendiz Ponce, of Hidalgo, Mexico, removes the meat from crabs at Russell Hall Seafood, Wednesday June 28, 2006, in Fishing Creek, Md. Crab processors say it's an easy decision, either hire Mexican workers to pick crabs or close up shop. The only thing they're unsure of is whether they'll be allowed to hire employees next year on seasonal work visas. A two-year extension of the visa program that allows them to staff Eastern Shore crab houses with workers to pry lump meat out of crabs expires this year, and an extension is still pending in Congress.(AP/Kathleen Lange)

A national farmworker advocacy group says that the growing push in Congress for policies that will pressure employers to make sure their employees are not undocumented does nothing to help the agricultural business, which depends on a sizeable unauthorized workforce.

“The status quo for farmworkers and agricultural businesses is untenable and must be reformed,” the organization, Farmworker Justice, said in a statement. “Over 50% of farmworkers are undocumented."

"The lack of immigration status," the group said, "contributes to the significant problems in agricultural workplaces and communities: low wages, poor working conditions, pesticide poisoning, and substandard housing.”

The group released the statement on Thursday, when the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel held a hearing on E-Verify, an electronic employment eligibility system that allows employers to check the immigration status of their workers. 

The database holds records of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, which includes immigration departments.

At present, participation in E-Verify is voluntary, except for certain federal contractors.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, reiterated his support for tougher workplace enforcement of immigration laws in a statement on Thursday. Smith would like to see employer participation in E-Verify become mandatory.

“With unemployment over 9 percent now for 21 months, jobs are scarce and families are worried,” Smith said. “Seven million people are working in the U.S. illegally. These jobs should go to legal workers.”

“One effective program to help ensure jobs are reserved for citizens and legal workers is E-Verify,” Smith said.

Critics of E-Verify say the database can give misleading information, and that erroneous data that would lead an employer to believe that a lawful worker is here illegally could prompt to a wrongful firing.

Critics also say that some groups, such as Latinos and other minorities, might be put under greater, baseless scrutiny by employers because of their surname or accent.
Smith acknowledged there are concerns about E-Verify.

“But the fact remains that E-Verify is a very effective tool for employers who want to hire legal workers,” he said.

Farmworker Justice is one of the latest groups to call for something to be done for industries that rely on undocumented workers.

Enforcement alone will not solve the challenges farmworkers face nor provide employers with the stable, productive workforce they need,” the group’s statement said.

 “Our nation’s broken immigration system needs a lasting solution, which must include a path to immigration status.”

Elizabeth.Llorente@FoxNewsLatino.com

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Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.