On Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced the bipartisan AG and Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 6417) – legislation that would mandate E-Verify and create a new agricultural guest worker program. The bill’s introduction represents the first step in fulfilling a promise made by House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold a vote on an E-Verify/guest worker proposal by the August recess, in exchange for several members of Congress not signing the amnesty discharge petition.
The AG and Legal Workforce Act replaces the current H-2A agricultural guest worker program with a new, workable agricultural guest worker program, known as the H-2C program. The H-2C program is available to both seasonal and year-round agricultural employers, provides a generous visa allocation to ensure labor needs are met, provides much needed flexibility to minimize disruptions in farm operations, eliminates regulatory burdens, and contains accountability and enforcement provisions.
The AG and Legal Workforce Act also requires all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, the effective web-based program that protects jobs for legal workers. The bill also repeals the error-prone, paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with E-Verify. It contains a gradual phase-in for employers—starting with the largest employers first and eventually phasing in small businesses and agricultural employers.
While the guest worker provisions in the Ag and Legal Workforce Act are supported by over 200 agricultural groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, one powerful organization is already taking credit for killing the proposal. Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, an association representing growers of more than half the produce in the U.S., thanked his illegal labor dependent membership for lobbying against the bill as it was being drafted.
“We have been informed that the U.S. House of Representatives will NOT vote on legislation next week that would impose mandatory E-Verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) with no fix for our existing workers,” Nassif wrote in an email last week. “Furthermore, our allies believe this legislation will likely not be voted before the August recess at all, due to our resolve. Those of you who took the time to call members of Congress made the difference. Let us never forget that when we act collectively, with a strong voice, we make real impact,” he added.
The response from Western Growers – which has long opposed any attempts to require E-Verify or reduce illegal immigration – is rightfully drawing the ire of some members of Congress. Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA), an original cosponsor of the Ag and Legal Workforce Act, blasted Nassif and said that the vote promised by Ryan will still happen.
“It is disappointing that Tom Nassif, who just four years ago said immigration reform cannot wait, is now urging action to be delayed until next Congress,” Newhouse said. “Thankfully the speaker and majority leader have given their commitment to bring this bill to the floor and American farmers are very grateful.”
Stay tuned to FAIR for updates.