Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bush administration crackdown on illegals raises nationwide concern about labor for harvests

The Bush administration, under political pressure to show toughness after failure of its immigration bill, says it is cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants. That has helped spread worries about lack of farm labor to harvest crops this year to all corners of the country, including the apple orchards of the Hudson River valley in New York. "There are new fears in New York and around the nation over whether there will be enough hands to pick the crop," Lisa Foderaro of The New York Times reports from Hamptonburgh, N.Y, where Jonamac apples are being harvested in the photo by the Times' Joyce Dopkeen.

"Nationwide, growers’ associations estimate that about 70 percent of farmworkers are illegal immigrants, many of them using fake Social Security numbers on their applications. Under the new rules, if the Social Security Administration finds that an applicant’s information does not match its database, employers could be required to fire the worker or risk being fined up to $10,000 for knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant," Foderaro writes. "Growers say that only 2 percent of farmworkers nationwide come from the current guest-worker program, which, they say, is plagued by red tape, low capacity and delays." (Read more)

The Department of Homeland Security "first proposed the regulations in June 2006 but then failed to implement them while an immigration-overhaul made its way to the Senate floor," reports June Kronholz of The Wall Street Journal. "That bill collapsed in part because of a public outcry over the administration's lax enforcement of immigration laws already on the books." (Read more)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, after first saying that it welcomed the new regulations, had a conference call for its leaders with administration officials last Thursday, Bob Meyer of Brownfield Network reports. "There have been concerns in agriculture that the latest rules will cause an even greater shortage of farm labor, especially in fruit and vegetable-growing areas," Meyer reports. "Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation president, Bill Bruins says that concern came up in the conference call and while the White House acknowledged the problem, they have every intention to push-ahead with the enforcement." (Read more)

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