WASHINGTON, April 1, 2015 – The chances that immigration bills can even move through the House seems to be falling, even as those in agriculture say the border crackdown is tightening the supply of farmworkers. The House Judiciary Committee has started advancing a series of stand-alone immigration bills, but the enforcement-first approach has rankled agriculture interests.
Sixty-one House members, all but six of them Republicans, recently signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner challenging the committee’s decision to move a mandatory E-Verify bill (HR 1147) ahead of agricultural guestworker legislation. The bill was already unlikely to get any Democratic support.
“Very likely it fails on the floor,” said Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chair of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition. “We may be hurtling toward the great-big-nothing-happens,” he said of the immigration issue.
The bill would require employers to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of workers. Agricultural employers would be given three years to start complying.
Meanwhile, the administration’s shift in enforcement emphasis to border security rather than audits and raids on business may have relieved some of the direct pressure on farms. But it also means that farmers are having a harder time finding workers, said Regelbrugge. Were it not for the drought, California would have “a labor disaster,” he said. “Nobody new is coming. Nobody is reporting that they have new workers coming. It’s all about holding on to what you’ve got and figuring out how to cope,” he said.
Farmers also are concerned about the potential impact of President Obama’s initiative, offering work permits to illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and have children who are citizens are lawful residents. The initiative, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), is now on hold because of a Texas judge’s order.
One estimate is that 704,000 adults -- farmworkers and their spouses -- could be affected by that initiative, along with 80,000 children. The big unknown is how many of those farmworkers would leave for other jobs if they get a permit. Some farmworkers might decide that applying for the program is too risky since there is no guarantee that their legal status will be permanent.
Adrienne DerVartanian, director of immigration and labor rights for Farmworker Justice, an advocacy group, said she’s heard that concern. “But I think a lot of workers recognize that the alternative - staying undocumented - you are also facing the risk of deportation, particularly as the (enforcement) resources narrow in and focus on people who don’t have deferred action.” Farmworkers “are really having to make that cost-benefit analysis of what’s best for them,” she said.
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