Farmers: Crisis if no undocumented workers

Dec. 5, 2011 at 5:43 PM
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MAITLAND, Fla., Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Florida farmers warn of a crisis if Washington passes a bill stripping them of their undocumented workforce, which accounts for 75 percent of their workers.

"If approximately 75 percent of your workforce disappears, what are you to do?" the Florida Grower trade monthly asks in its current issue.

Most undocumented farm workers currently buy fake Social Security cards and employers generally issue paychecks and deduct payroll taxes attributed to the false numbers, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association acknowledges.

This lets the employers fulfill their legal obligation. They are not required to check if the numbers are legitimate.

But the proposed Legal Workforce Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, would require all employers to use the E-Verify federal database to confirm the numbers' legitimacy -- and not hire undocumented workers.

The law would "provide growers who want to do the right thing with a reliable source of legal labor" and "protect the livelihoods of American workers and the rights of guest workers," Smith said

With unemployment near record highs, "these jobs should go to legal workers," he said June 14 when he introduced the bill.

Agricultural other business groups oppose Smith's bill, and chances of its passage are questionable, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reports.

But even if it doesn't pass on Capitol Hill, a similar bill might pass in Florida, the farmers say.

Eleven states, including Alabama and Georgia, have passed E-Verify laws, despite opposition. This drove away undocumented farm workers, causing massive crop losses, FFVA says.

Farmers could hire legal guest workers under a U.S. H-2A visa program, which provides entry for temporary or seasonal agricultural work.

But these workers must be covered by U.S. wage laws, workers' compensation and other standards farmers say they can't afford, the Post says.

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