By ANDY ANDREWS
LANCASTER, Pa. – More than 60 percent of the milk sold in this country is processed using migrant labor. In fact, most of the food we eat is handled in some way by migrant workers.
With the passage of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB1070, Congress is well on the way to considering a law that will affect not just migrant workers, but everyone in the U.S.
The creation of a comprehensive bill will give everyone in the U.S. a biometric employment verification, or personal ID, card. The card will have a magnetic code with personal information, according to Charles Garrison, president of the Garrison Group, LLC, Washington.
Garrison spoke to more than three dozen farmers and agri-industry representatives May 13 during the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored monthly Ag Issues Forum at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center in Lancaster, Pa.
Garrison, a dairy farmer from Indiana, leads a pro-agricultural lobbyist group to help tackle farming related issues in Washington.
According to Garrison, although a comprehensive bill to mandate cards for everyone working in the U.S. is in its formative stages as a Senate bill, plans are under way to ensure everybody is required to have a card in the U.S, whether you are a citizen or not.
The biometric card, to take the place of the old Social Security card, will include your name, date of birth, social security number, and some type of biometric identifier, said Garrison.
At this stage, plans remain unclear what the identifier will be — either a fingerprint or retina-type identification. As of now, there is only one immigrant employment verification plan in pace: the H-2A visa, which allows immigrants to work in seasonal agricultural jobs. There are no plans under H-2A that relate to dairy, however.
The H-2A system “is broken, and it doesn’t work for anyone,” said Garrison. “We’ve got to produce milk here. We’ve got to work this out. Some come to get a job here. And of course, some are here to hurt us.”
Employers who have migrant workers are required by federal law to have I-9 forms filled out to the letter. Federal immigration agents can make unannounced visits to look over paperwork — and when paperwork is inconsistent with federal records, farm manager troubles can ensue.
For now, only 10 percent of the seasonal workers in the U.S. have H-2A visas. But there are another 10.5 million immigrants in the country, and in many cases, “we don’t know who they are, where they are, or what they’re doing,” said Garrison.
Just from a national security point of view, according to the lobbyist, it would be important to put in place a working system that systematically assists with the identification of those immigrant workers.
Trouble is, with the changeover in U.S. administrations, the H-2A laws have been “whipsawed,” according to Garrison. Garrison noted the U.S. secretary of labor has “tremendous latitude” on the H-2A rulings. But nothing specific has been written about the 50,000-60,000 dairy farm migrant workers in the U.S., and the numbers continue to grow.
What Garrison believes is that a “bridge” program can be put into place to serve as a comprehensive bill. This may do more than the border fences, work site raids and audits that have faced municipalities.
Arizona’s new law will inevitably create civil rights issues that could be unprecedented. But a new proposed framework for a Senate bill is AgJOBS, a two-part bill that will reform the H-2A program to make it more user-friendly.
It will also expand the program to help employers make better use of migrant labor.
The AgJOBS bill will create a situation that will help solve the problems encountered with H-2A and Arizona’s new immigrant law with an “incremental approach to get things started,” he said. “AgJOBS is becoming recognized as the way to handle this by the U.S. Congress,” he said.
Lisa Graybeal, Graywood Farms, LLC, Peach Bottom, Pa. — the farm is on the Maryland-Pennsylvania line — is the human resources manager on a 650-cow dairy. With the farm, “labor is a huge issue,” Graybeal said.
Some time ago, the farm hired a family from Mexico through a Chester County immigration program. The work of the family on the dairy “more than exceeded our expectations,” Graybeal said. “We continue to hire immigrant labor.”
Graybeal said that in the past seven years, “no viable American applied for a job on our farm,” she said. The hard-working, dedicated migrant families make the subject of reformed immigration laws “a passionate subject for me and my family.”
A migrant caseworker, Cilas-Ruis-Steele, was a big help after two agents showed up on the farm. Fortunately, the I-9 files at the farm were filled out as complete as Graybeal could make them and her farm title is “personnel manager.”
Some of the paperwork issues were cleared up quickly with the help of Ruis-Steele. The I-9 forms need to be kept at the farm and up to date. Every detail must be included and they must be signed by the workers.
It is important for every farm to have a “corporate immigration compliance policy,” said Graybeal. A farm using migrant labor must designate someone to serve as “human resources manager.”
Many farm employment managers make use of the E-Verify system, operated by the U.S. government, to ensure the I-9 forms are in place. About 196,000 businesses use the government database, which is not without its flaws.
For more information, contact Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-234-6888.