Thursday, July 23, 2009
Congress Must Fix Before Expanding Employment Verification Programs Programs Should Only Be Discussed in Context of Wider Reform
Washington D.C. - As Congress holds hearings and introduces plans for expansion of an Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS) like E-verify, it has become clear that some version of employment verification will be part of comprehensive immigration reform. However, much remains to be done before EEVS is ready for prime time. The following is a statement from Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center:
"E-Verify received a lot of attention on Capitol Hill this week, but the radically different approaches to its implementation considered by Congress reinforces our observation that it is not ready for prime time. The Senate Immigration Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, held a hearing that looked at an expanded E-Verify program as part of an integrated component of comprehensive immigration reform. In contrast, Congressman Heath Shuler announced the reintroduction of a previously failed bill, the SAVE Act, which calls for mandatory expansion of E-Verify without fixing our broken immigration system.
Senator Schumer understands that we can't implement a mandatory electronic employment-verification system like E-Verify in its present form, without serious protections and revisions to it. While there remains significant disagreement over what those protections should look like, there is a clear understanding that the gravity of implementing a mandatory program that has the potential to affect every individual's ability to work - citizen or immigrant - requires thoughtful consideration and analysis.
We mustn't forget that employment verification affects every person who works in the U.S. - not just undocumented immigrants - and Congress must move forward carefully. Any expansion of E-Verify must be part of wider reform which requires current unauthorized workers to legalize their status and gives employers legal channels through which they may hire needed legal workers. Attempting to implement a mandatory E-Verify program without such reforms, as Congressman Shuler envisions, is a recipe for disaster.
Mandatory E-verify could put thousands of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants at risk of losing their jobs, will be expensive for small businesses at a time when the economy is weak, places additional pressures on the already overburdened Social Security Administration, and does not guarantee that undocumented workers will not get jobs. Every effort must be made to ensure that a new and expanded EEVS program will actually serve its intended purpose."
View IPC's Fact Check on the Key Components of Employment Verification Systems:
* 10 Key Components for Workable and Effective Electronic Employment Verification System, (IPC Fact Check), July 23, 2009
For press inquiries contact Wendy Sefsaf at 202-507-7524 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 6, 2009
A federal system that lets employers check the legal status of their workers is soaring in popularity across the country, growing by 1,000 companies a week, fueled by anxiety over workplace raids and uncertainty over the future of the nation's illegal immigrants.
Leading the trend are Arizona and Mississippi, which have made the system mandatory for all employers, and 10 other states that require it for state agencies and contractors. But the system is also ballooning in states where it is optional, such as California, Texas, and Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, enrollment quadrupled to 1,712 businesses over the past three years, from Boston's exclusive Algonquin Club to the Papa Gino's restaurant chain to the law firm Ropes & Gray, according to a list provided by the federal government. Individual employers and private households may also use the system: Ann Romney, wife of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, signed up last year after a Globe investigation found that the family had twice hired a landscaping company that used unauthorized workers.
Known as E-Verify, the system is up for renewal in Congress and igniting debate across the United States. Federal officials are waging a publicity campaign to turn the once-obscure service into a household name, while advocates for immigrants say it contains erroneous information that could lead to some workers being unfairly denied jobs.
But employers, rattled as business owners are going to jail and paying million-dollar fines for hiring illegal workers, say the system offers peace of mind.
"God knows we check everything," said Lassaad Riahi, general manager of the Algonquin Club, which signed up for E-Verify more than a year ago. "We don't want to hire anybody that doesn't have the proper identification or the proper IDs or the proper number or the proper something."
Nationally the number of businesses in the system has risen 10-fold since 2006, to more than 113,000 this week, with checks on 6.6 million workers last fiscal year, double the year before.
Congress established E-Verify, a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration, in 1996 as a pilot program for a handful of states.
But the system expanded significantly in 2007, amid national debate over illegal immigration, and government officials predict that it will become even more widespread if Congress legalizes the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
All federal agencies began using E-Verify in 2007, including the office of Barack Obama when he was a US senator, and it will be required of all federal contractors starting in May.E-Verify works like this: Companies and individual employers must first enroll in the free system, pass a tutorial, and sign a memorandum of understanding with the government. Then they enter all new employees' Social Security numbers and other information into an Internet program to verify their identities. The system searches federal databases and typically confirms the worker within seconds.
An unconfirmed employee has eight days to appeal. Companies can use the system for new hires only, under the rules, and do not automatically flag rejected workers for deportation because it is not used for enforcement.
Some employers are forced to use E-Verify - Rhode Island mandates it for state agencies - while others sign up voluntarily. Still other companies have signed up after something went wrong.
Eagle Industries started using the service in New Bedford after buying Michael Bianco Inc., the leather-goods factory raided by immigration agents two years ago. Former Bianco owner Francesco Insolia was recently sentenced to a year in prison and a $1 million fine.
Dunkin' Donuts made use of E-Verify mandatory for all stores in 2006 after a Connecticut franchise holder, Jose Calhelha, was arrested and charged with illegally hiring Portuguese workers. He was later sentenced to 10 months in prison, two years of probation, and a $1 million fine.
Business executives say the system is working overall, even as some grumble that it is time-consuming to learn and that problems can be costly to fix.
The Winchester Country Club, which has a long history of hiring seasonal landscapers from Honduras to groom the golf course, signed up last summer to improve hiring practices. Club officials immediately noticed that some of their best workers did not reapply.
"We don't intentionally hire illegal workers," said club general manager Paul Lazar. "Obviously, the reality is there's some really good people out there in the workforce and we'd love to be able to hire them. They show up every day and try to do a good job, and they don't sit around and try to call their girlfriends on their cellphones."
Critics of the service are anxious about E-Verify's rapid expansion. They say the existing databases contain inaccurate and sometimes fraudulent information. And they caution that enrolling in the system is no guarantee against immigration raids: The Swift & Co. meat packing company was enrolled in E-Verify when federal agents raided several plants in 2006 and arrested more than 1,200 people.
In addition, they say, legitimate workers are unfairly rejected because companies are wrongly screening them before they are hired, without giving them a chance to solve the problem.
"We think that an expansion of E-Verify without immigration reform makes no sense whatsoever," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington. "We're not fixing the problem."
Government officials say they have boosted resources to significantly reduce errors. Last year, 3.9 percent of queries did not match, which is similar to the roughly 5 percent of the workforce that is estimated to be here illegally. Only 0.4 percent of those who were rejected had the finding overturned and were declared authorized to work.
"The system is working," said Kathy Lotspeich, deputy chief of verification for US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of Homeland Security agency that operates E-Verify. "We rarely get criticism from people who actually use the program."
The use of E-Verify is still tiny relative to the general workforce. Less than 2 percent of the nation's companies are enrolled, but more states and companies are considering using the service.
"Let's face it, the vast majority of employers want to do the right thing," said lawyer Susan Cohen of the Boston law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo, which advises companies on the issue."With the increased emphasis over the last couple of years on workplace raids," she said, "the Department of Homeland Security has really put fear into the hearts of employers across the country about what could happen at their companies.
Friday, February 20, 2009
February 20, 2009 · The U.S. agricultural industry has long complained about a labor shortage in the fields. The work force is aging and it is frequently too difficult for new farm workers to get visas. So, the federal government has just begun implementing new rules to ease the H-2A temporary agriculture worker program.
At 5 a.m., nearly 10,000 Mexican lettuce pickers wait to enter the U.S. at the port of entry between San Luis, Sonora, in Mexico and San Luis, Ariz., near Yuma. It's a daily scene during the winter season, but Anadina Cardenez Alvarez is here for the first time.
She is part of a group getting their H-2A visas. It took three months and cost $400, but she says it was worth it.
"People have told me here you can make $50 to $70 a day," she says. "There, you can barely make $50 to $70 a week. That's a big difference."
On that day, though, there was no work. The grower needed only half the number of visa workers as he thought he would.
"Due to the economic situation in the country, the farmers in this area have planted up to 40 percent less," says Janine Duron, executive director of the Independent Agricultural Workers' Center, a nonprofit that connects workers with growers. "So there's been less of a demand for farm workers. And there was just about enough demand to be met with the local domestic farm workers."
In this case, local domestic farm workers means Mexican citizens with U.S. green cards, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These workers could legally live in the U.S., but they choose to live in Mexico because it's cheaper. In the last few years, green-card holders have made up about 15 to 20 percent of crossers, according to one customs officer's estimate. This winter, he says, that number has shot up to about 60 percent.
Paul Muthart, general manager of Pasquinelli Farms in Yuma, says it's one more effect of the recession.
"These folks who would otherwise be on a roof or in a kitchen or making a bed are back in the ag field," Muthart says.
From Farming To Construction, And Back
Such is the case of Felix Valdez, who got his green card in 1985 when the federal government offered illegal workers amnesty. He worked in the fields, but then he found a better job in construction. That's the typical pattern for immigrants. But now he's back in the fields he once left.
"I changed because there's no more construction," Valdez says. "Maybe in March … Maybe."
University of California agricultural economist Phil Martin says what's happening now is not just immigrant labor moving back to the fields, but fewer immigrants leaving agriculture in the first place.
"During the Depression, a lot of Americans who had left the farm returned to the farm," Martin says. "I like to think of the farm labor market as a revolving door in a big department store. People enter, on average they stay less than 10 years, and they leave. I think that the major thing that's happened is that door is turning slower."
But that door may not be turning at all. By the time it's light out, the Yuma workers have been taken by bus to the fields. They start picking the seemingly endless rows of romaine, butter leaf and iceberg lettuce, stooping to pick the heads then using knives to chop off the root. It's obviously hard work, and Duron, the nonprofit director, says that's a problem. Most of the domestic workers here — the green-card holders — are at least 50 years old.
"And mostly with 30-40 years or more working in the fields," she says. "They're not able to produce as well as a younger work force, and there is no younger work force in the United States."
More H-2A visa workers will likely be needed when the recession ends. But for now, older so-called domestic farm workers and former construction workers will take the jobs — unless things get so bad that U.S. citizens are willing to move across the country for five months' work in these lettuce fields at $350 a week.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Owner of San Pablo restaurant sentenced for employing illegal workers
Contra Costa Times
SACRAMENTO — A restaurant owner convicted of employing illegal aliens and mail fraud was sentenced Friday to pay $49,000 in fines and spend 36 months on probation and eight months in home confinement.
Prosecutors said Rui Tao Lin, 53, was the owner of King's Buffet in Vacaville, one of a group of affiliated family-owned restaurants that included Empire Buffet in San Pablo. The restaurants used a Los Angeles employment agency to recruit undocumented Asian workers, prosecutors said, while also hiring other undocumented workers who responded to classified advertisements.
Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided two of the restaurants in September, but did not hit the San Pablo restaurant because it never opened the day of the scheduled raid. Agents also made arrests at several homes, including one in Hercules, where the owners allegedly housed an illegal workforce.
Rui Tao Lin's brother, Rui Yang Lin, and co-defendant Bi Xia Ni were each sentenced last month to 36 months probation and a $36,000 fine. All pleaded guilty to charges in the fall.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Ag economist: Labor issues could affect food prices
Dairy Herd news source | Monday, January 05, 2009
Migrant or foreign labor is a must for the dairy industry and other parts of agriculture, and a reduction in the workforce could cost consumers considerably, says David Anderson, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station, Texas. Labor and immigration are tied together, and it includes both legal and illegal immigration, he adds.
While immigration can be from another state or another region of the U.S., many minds turn to illegal immigration coming from other countries.
“We’ve always restricted immigration through the number of visas, which are much fewer than the demand, and so that encourages illegal immigration,” he says. “But the whole issue is a lot more complex that just illegal immigration. It is one that is important to the overall economy of the U.S. and other countries. The past pace of economic growth is not possible without immigration. We could not have had the economic growth of the past if we had not had as much immigration.”
Agriculture has much at stake in this issue, he says. It needs to get the debate away from the big issues and establish that there is a legitimate need for these workers. “We have to get away from the macro debate on open borders, security, citizenship and no immigrants,” he notes.
Foreign labor represents an estimated 43 percent of the nation’s dairy workforce, Anderson says.
The value of milk production is $28.7 billion and this part of the dairy industry alone provides 147,000 jobs nationwide, he says. If the related industries are added in, it is a $55 billion industry with 363,000 jobs.
If you had a foreign labor reduction of only 20 percent, you would lose 33,000 employees, $5.5 billion in sales and $1.5 billion in income, Anderson explains. Total elimination would be a lot higher, he adds. Illegal immigrants make up 50 percent of agriculture’s workers.
“What if we lost that production, what happens to retail prices?” Anderson asks. “We could see as much as a 30 percent increase.”
With dairies, labor is the second largest expense next to feed, he said. Large dairies pay higher wagers because they need specialized labor and can afford it because they have a lower per unit costs and are better able to bid higher for labor, on average.
Anderson says turnover averages 15 percent across all dairies. The rate of turnover can impact production per cow, death loss and feed efficiency, meaning it is costly for dairy operators. “That’s the hidden effect,” he says. “There is a cost of finding and training another person.”
About 20 percent of the dairy owners said they see labor shortages and are increasing wages to attract workers, he said. Wages are higher where competing jobs are located.
There is a vacuum of available workers, in part caused by the failure to pass immigration reform and the movement of penalties from civil to criminal, Anderson said.
The oil and gas industry in the High Plains has been very competitive for laborers, pulling them away from where they were working, he said. People move for higher paying jobs. “We also have a changing economy right now that is going to affect things,” Anderson says. “When the economy is poor, fewer come and more go back because the opportunity is not here.”
Since the economy has faltered, there is evidence of migrants leaving, he says. The amount of money being sent back to Mexico is down.
“Labor is a commodity and the market has to equilibrate,” Anderson adds. “This may mean workers moving to opportunities and higher wages. The wages must become relatively equal.”
The people will go where the jobs are and where there is economic growth, he says.
More than 7,000 people work in the livestock industry in the High Plains, Anderson said, and an estimated 3,000 more will be needed by 2027 in the Panhandle.
There are about 1.2 million people in the High Plains, including parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. That figure remains fairly stable. The average individual wage is $25,000 annually for different types of employment, but 70 percent of that in agriculture.
“It’s going to be hard to find workers,” Anderson concludes. “They must come from one of three sources: current young residents, steal them away from another job or recruit them in.”Source: Texas A&M University