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September 07, 2007   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
September 07, 2007

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- New regulations released Aug. 10 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) place the burden of enforcing immigration laws on farmers who employ migrant workers.

However, a court order has temporarily halted implementation of the regulations until an Oct. 1 hearing.

The new rules require employers to document efforts to investigate and resolve situations when Social Security numbers provided by workers do not match federal records. Failure to follow the new procedures could result in a farmer or other employer facing fines and other legal action.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray said the new regulations highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

"Our organization supports strong, secure borders, but immigration reform must include a guest worker program that allows farmers to hire legal, migrant labor," Gray said. "The current H-2A guest worker program is inefficient, and these latest regulations further complicate matters by placing the burden of enforcement on employers."

Sophisticated counterfeiting technology often makes it difficult for employers to determine whether a worker's identification is legitimate. In addition, the new regulations require employers to maintain extensive documentation on workers as well as efforts to reconcile mismatched Social Security numbers. If a farmer fails to follow these "safe harbor" procedures, he could be charged with knowingly hiring illegal workers, for which the fine was increased by 25 percent.

"Employers are, in effect, being asked to be immigration agents," said Austin Perez, a labor specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Brian Hardin, director of the Horticulture and Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Divisions for the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the organization is a member of Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform, a group working to bring common sense solutions to the immigration debate.

"Farmers are among our most patriotic citizens. They support efforts to secure our borders, but they also need an effective guest work program. Without guest workers, American Farm Bureau estimates Alabama could lose about $63 million in agricultural production, and $9 billion could be at risk nationwide," Hardin said.

"We are encouraged that President Bush has asked the Department of Labor to review the H-2A program, and we encourage Congress to pass an immigration reform that makes provisions for guest workers without burdening employers with enforcement responsibilities," he added.

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