WASHINGTON, March 3, 2015 – The House Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would force employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure their workers can legally work in the Untied States, a requirement that could snag farmworkers across the country.

Democrats argued that the requirement would devastate agricultural employers who heavily rely on illegal immigrants for labor, but the panel approved the measure 20-13.

The bill (HR 1147) is the first of a series of immigration enforcement measures that House Republicans are planning to move. Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said that the committee would consider a separate agricultural guestworker bill “as soon as possible.”

“The American people are demanding immigration enforcement prior to any legal immigration reforms,” Goodlatte told the committee today.

Agribusiness groups strenuously object to the E-Verify requirement unless Congress assures them a future flow of workers through an expanded guestworker program.

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Immigration legislation has little chance of passing this Congress because of the sharp divisions on policy between Republicans and Democrats, but the Agriculture Workforce Coalition still made clear that it is opposed to moving the E-Verify bill without the guestworker program to go with it.

"Imposing mandatory E-verify without fixing our country's broken immigration system will sound the death knell for thousands of farming operations across the country,’ the coalition said ahead of the committee vote.

“As we have repeatedly stated, agriculture faces unprecedented demographic challenges and relies heavily on foreign-born workers. Continued inaction by Congress in the fact of these realities will mean more fields lying fallow, more farmers losing their livelihoods and fewer of the foods we eat being grown in America.”

Committee seized on agriculture’s concerns to fight the bill. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said the E-Verify requirement would be so devastating to farms that it would force Americans to rely on imported produce. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the error rate in the existing E-Verify is large enough, 0.3 percent, that hundreds of thousands of employees could be at risk of losing their jobs unfairly.

Democrats argue that Congress should pass a comprehensive immigration bill that provides undocumented workers with a path to legal status.

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