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E-Verify is 'divisive,' says Monterey Herald columnist

Pending federal legislation that would require employers to check worker eligibility using an system called E-Verify is divisive and unrealistic, writes attorney Dirk Stemermen in his Monterey Herald column "On the Job."

"Nothing turns conservative 'growers' into immigrant-rights advocates quicker than obligatory E-Verify use," Stemermen said.

E-Verify, which checks information from an employee's I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form against government records to determine U.S. employment eligibility, is already in use in Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.

Stemermen said that economists at UC Davis and the USDA released a study last month concluding that such crackdowns on undocumented farmworkers raise labor costs as documented workers demand better wages and working conditions.

The columnist seems to be referring to research covered in a recent UC Davis news story that said immigration reform and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws could significantly boost labor costs for California’s $20 billion fresh fruit, nut and vegetable crops.

“California’s produce industry depends on a constant influx of new, foreign-born laborers, and more than half of those are unauthorized laborers, primarily from Mexico,” the news release quoted Phillip Martin, a professor of agricultural and resource economics and one of the nation’s leading authorities on agricultural labor.

“The cost of hiring these laborers will likely rise as the U.S. government ramps up enforcement of immigration laws by installing more physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and requiring more audits of workers’ I-9 employment verification forms,” Martin says.

Stemermen also raised the issue of farmworker overtime pay in his column. California farmworkers don't receive overtime pay unless they work more than 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week.

"Verifying employment eligibility through E-Verify or paying California farmworkers more overtime would lead to higher farmworker wages and create jobs for documented workers. But because farmworkers are so poorly paid for the unwanted, arduous work they perform, perhaps a bit of realism needs to be injected into the immigration debate," Stemermen wrote.

Farmworkers harvest vegetables in the Salinas Valley.
Farmworkers harvest vegetables in the Salinas Valley.

Posted on Monday, July 11, 2011 at 9:24 AM
Tags: economy (21), farm labor (1), farm workers (1), immigration (4)

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