WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would require every employer in the country to use the E-Verify system to check whether a potential employee is in the United States legally.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., urged the committee to vote for the measure, but the Agriculture Workforce Coalition opposes the bill. The bill, called the Legal Workforce Act, passed out of committee Tuesday afternoon by a 20-13 vote, according to a news release by the committee.
"One way to make sure we discourage illegal immigration in the future is to prevent unlawful immigrants from getting jobs in the U.S.," Goodlatte said. "Requiring the use of E-Verify by all employers across the country will help do just that. The web-based program is a reliable and fast way for employers to electronically check the work eligibility of newly hired employees."
Goodlatte added, "I understand that some in the agricultural industry do not support the Legal Workforce Act because they prefer it to be moved at the same time as an agricultural guest-worker program. And I remain just as committed to moving such a guest-worker program through this committee as I was last Congress."
The Legal Workforce Act "in no way diminishes the need for a workable agricultural guest-worker program and in no way diminishes my commitment to having this committee consider such a bill as soon as possible," Goodlatte said.
Under the bill, the smallest employers with one to 19 employees would have two years before they would be required to use E-Verify. Businesses that provide agricultural labor or services would be allowed three years before they would be required to use the program.
Still, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, which represents 70 farm groups, said it "vehemently opposes" the bill.
"Any bill mandating E-Verify must only come after or in conjunction with legislation to address the labor crisis being faced by America's farmers, ranchers, and growers," the group said. "Imposing mandatory E-Verify without fixing our country's broken immigration system will sound the death knell for thousands of farming operations across the country.
"As we have repeatedly stated, agriculture faces unprecedented demographic challenges and relies heavily on foreign-born workers. Continued inaction by Congress in the face of these realities will mean more fields lying fallow, more farmers losing their livelihoods and fewer of the foods we eat being grown in America," the AWC added.
The steering committee of the AWC consists of: American Farm Bureau Federation, AmericanHort, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, National Council of Agricultural Employers, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, USA Farmers, U.S. Apple Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers Association, and Western United Dairymen.
The Judiciary Committee highlighted that the bill was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the national Association of Home Builders, among others.
The committee also declared that E-Verify is easy to use and can quickly confirm work-eligible employees. Moreover, more than 580,000 companies already used the system, and a majority of small-business owners believe that every employee should use E-Verify.
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