In testimony delivered to the US House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, National Chicken Council (NCC) President Mike Brown testified on behalf of a broad food manufacturers coalition, including, about the need for a stable and permanent workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where meat and poultry facilities operate.
The hearing, “From H-2A to a Workable Agricultural Guestworker Program,” was the second in a series of several hearings on immigration issues in the subcommittee. “To date much of the discussion has focused on the need to retain highly skilled workers such as scientists and engineers, and the need for additional temporary agricultural workers,” Brown said. “These are important objectives, but they do not meet the needs of our industry sector. We are manufacturers, wanting a stable and permanent workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where we do business.”
Brown in his testimony highlighted five major themes for immigration reform on which the coalition is focused: border security; a very simple improvement to the E-verify system as an alternative to a national identity card; clarity in anti-discrimination laws; an occupational visa category that the meat and poultry industry can use that could be tied to local or regional employment; and, options to effectively address the 11 million undocumented workers in the shadows of our economy.
“Some think there is an economic incentive for manufacturing employers to hire illegal immigrants at below-market wages,” Brown continued. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Our industry needs a stable workforce. We seek workers who will stay on the job long enough to become skilled and efficient, helping us to keep our food products and employees safe.”
In terms of strengthening employment verification, Brown noted that the government does not provide employers with a reliable verification method to prevent identity fraud and confirm whether new hires are legally authorised to work in the United States. “E-Verify is a step in the right direction but does not work adequately in its current form,” he said. “If strengthened, this program will serve as an effective and efficient ‘virtual border.’”
Brown said that the current system, however, does not account for the meat and poultry industry’s most common issue, identity fraud, e.g. a valid Social Security number that does not relate to the person presenting it. In addition to documents such as a driver’s license or social security card which are easily falsified, the coalition believes employers should be allowed to require an E-Verify Self Check. E-Verify Self Check is an online service that allows US employees to check their employment eligibility in the United States before beginning a new job.
In return for participating in these and other aggressive screening programs, Brown said that the coalition supports providing a safe harbour for employers that utilise the E-Verify Self Check and follow the automatic referral process. “An employer that does everything possible to avoid hiring unauthorised aliens should not be exposed to further liability,” he contended.