Posted September 9, 2013
 
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to discontinue its I-9 farm audits and focus on violent criminals instead of agricultural employers and workers, according to an article by the San Francisco Chronicle, available here.  
 
On Sept. 3, Sen. Feinstein wrote a letter to Janet Napolitano, the outgoing secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), voicing her concerns about the agricultural industry in California.  The letter is available here.  Feinstein highlighted the agricultural industry’s shortage of domestic workers saying: “Many farmers and growers in California informed me that their business and livelihood are at risk due to a shortage of legal harvesters, pickers, pruners, packers, and farm workers.  As you can image, with approximately 81,000 farms in California, I am very concerned that these audits will result in significant harm to the agricultural industry and the state’s overall economy.”  Feinstein continued:  “The utilization of I-9 audits against agricultural employers exacerbates this crisis…When employers being audited receive notice that certain employees have not provided proper work authorization documents, those workers must be terminated.”  Sen. Feinstein wrote a letter voicing similar concerns to John Morton, The Director of ICE, in June of 2012.  That letter is available here.
 
California has the largest agricultural industry in the United States, with a $37.5 billion business.  According to a government estimate, of the 1.2 million people employed in agriculture-related jobs in the US, “70 percent are undocumented.”
 
Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for ICE, said that ICE focuses on “sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps and raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately.”  Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, said that farmers in California and Arizona are “20 percent short of labor” and that one “strawberry grower who is paying $30 to $31 an hour, offering pensions, health care and vacation time … still can’t find laborers.”  Rayne Pegg, federal policy manager for the California Farm Bureau, said that “as farmers approach the bulk of the harvest in the next several weeks, she expects about 30 percent fewer workers than in years past.”

 

Sens. Feinstein, Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), created the agricultural worker portion of the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June, according to an article by The Hill, available here.  The House has not acted on the legislation.