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Grower testifies in House on ag labor crisis
Bert Lemkes, co-owner of Van Wingerden International, Mills River, N.C., testified April 18 before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement in Washington, D.C. The subcommittee held a hearing on the E-Verify program and identity theft issues.
Lemkes’ growing operation, which employs 350 people at peak season, is using the federal E-Verify program and has learned first-hand of the challenges it poses for agricultural employers. Lemkes cautioned subcommittee members that making E-Verify mandatory without broader reforms could have the opposite of its intended effect, since false documents that feature a legitimate name and Social Security number routinely clear the E-Verify system now. It would also deprive greenhouses, nurseries, and farms of much of their labor force.
Most of Lemkes’ testimony, though, focused on the need for Congress to create a viable and practical visa program for agricultural workers desperately needed by farmers across the country. “This spring…had us experiencing terrible problems finding help for our busiest shipping season. When I get the question ‘how does E-Verify work for you?’ my answer is: 'Those that are willing to do the work often fail the system, but many of those that pass the system, fail to do the work.'"
Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association and co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, said, “This latest in a series of E-Verify hearings signals a renewed push for passage of mandatory E-Verify legislation."
Regelbrugge added, "Agriculture has sent a clear message to proponents of E-Verify legislation: E-Verify will decimate American agriculture unless you give us a market-based and practical visa program to address the farm labor crisis."
Lemkes emphasized this very point, telling Congress, “To put this in an agriculture picture — they are the cart and the horse. The cart can’t move without the horse, and they need to be in the right sequence.”