Fear of Crackdown on Undocumented Immigrant Hits Ohio Farms

farmers market

Farmers in Ohio are expressing concern over a plan to use the “E-Verify” system to screen employment applicants’ immigration status. The system cross-references an employee’s name and social security number with other information to verify citizenship and/or employment eligibility. Farmers state that they worry the system may scare away workers who, despite being legally allowed to work in the U.S. either through citizenship or work authorization, are wary of perceived anti-immigrant climates in many states. The workers most likely to be impacted by this system are the ones farmers most rely on during busy crop seasons.

E-Verify is a free digital service offered online by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration. Almost 300,000 employers use the service, and the government says that 1,400 business register for the service daily. This only accounts for about five percent of all employers in the U.S. The system maintains a digital database of information, which it compares to information supplied on an employee’s Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. An employee is free to work if the information matches. In the event of a mismatch, the system notifies the employer. The employee may work while the mismatch is resolved, but the employer and employee must take steps to resolve the matter within eight work days. Only a few states require employers to use the system for their employees. Ohio does not have any specific requirement.

Employers are required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) to verify that new employees present at least “facially valid” documentation establishing their identity and their authorization to work. Employees must complete an I-9 form when they begin employment, providing some personal information and certain forms of identification. The employer must keep this information on file until three years after the hire date or three years after employment ends, whichever is later.

IRCA imposes penalties against employers who do not comply with I-9 requirements. An employer who hires an unauthorized worker could face fines from $250 to $5,500 per worker, as well as a bar from receiving federal contracts for up to one year. A person who makes false statements or uses false documents with an I-9 faces fines or imprisonment. Fines start at $375 for one offense, and at $3,200 for subsequent offenses.

The situation with farmers presents an issue of critical work that few U.S. citizens seem willing to do, with a pool of seasonal, and sometimes undocumented, workers seeking those jobs. A North Carolina farmer speaking to Bloomberg Businessweek said that “those who want to work fail to pass E-Verify, and those that pass fail to work.” The H2-A visa program, which admits seasonal agricultural workers, issued about 56,000 visas in 2010, down from over 60,000 the previous year, according to the State Department. About half of all farm workers admitted to being in the U.S. illegally between 2007 and 2009, according to CNN.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab represents employers seeking legal authorization to work for their noncitizen employees. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.