The House Judiciary Subcommittee passed a bill, HR 2885, which would require employers to verify the employment eligibility of newly hired workers using the government E-Verify program.
The only thing that Democrats and Republicans seemed to agree on was a Democrat amendment that changes current law so that seasonal workers must fill out a new I-9 each year. Current law exempts seasonal workers who work for the same employer every year from completing a new I-9.
"The seasonal worker amendment was a punitive shot at farmers and other seasonal employers, and we are urging lawmakers to remove it from the final bill," said Washington Farm Labor Association (WAFLA) Director Dan Fazio.
WAFLA does not support or oppose mandatory E-Verify. "It's inevitable," said Fazio. "How do you argue with the proposition that employers should only hire workers who are legally authorized to work?"
The bill includes a four year phase-in for employers, depending on company size, and a three year phase-in for all agriculture employers.
Agriculture organizations are lobbying Congress to couple mandatory E-Verify with a workable guest worker program. To that end, the committee continued work on an agriculture guest worker bill, HR 2847, sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-Texas, which would reform the H-2A program. Another bill, HR 2895, sponsored by Dan Lungren, D-Calif., would create a totally new guest worker program that appears better suited for west coast growers.
"Both of these bills are great, said Fazio. "We are working to perfect them, and I hope they both pass."
All these bills - mandatory E-Verify and the guest worker reforms, face an uncertain future in the full House and the Senate.