By DAN WHEAT
Immigration bills introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte are under attack from the United Farm Workers of America as a rollback to the old Bracero program at the expense of farmworker protections.
Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced an agricultural guestworker bill and an E-verify bill -- House Resolutions 1773 and 1772 -- on April 26, saying he favors handling immigration in parts to get them right rather than collectively in a comprehensive bill.
The E-verify bill would replace the current I-9 employment eligibility system with electronic eligibility verification phased in over time. Agricultural workers would be subject to an E-verify check within 24 months of enactment.
Goodlatte's guestworker system would allow dairies and food processors to hire guestworkers. Wages would be the greater of a state's minimum wage or the prevailing wage rate. Growers could require guestworkers grievances be subject to binding arbitration to discourage frivolous and abusive litigation.
Guestworkers would not be eligible for health care and welfare programs. Administration would shift from the U.S. Department of Labor to the USDA.
Goodlatte's bills would result in massive job losses for U.S. workers by transforming farm labor into a system of temporary workers with no meaningful protections or rights, Maria Machuca, UFW spokeswoman, said in a news release.
Domestic recruitment obligations of employers would be minimized, wages would be "slashed," government oversight would be minimized and judicial relief would be minimized, she said.
Undocumented workers already here would only be allowed temporary worker visas with no roadmap to citizenship, Machuca said. Employer-paid housing and transportation would be eliminated, she said.
The UFW urges support of the comprehensive Senate bill and likens Goodlatte's bills to the Bracero guestworker program of 1942 to 1964.
The Agricultural Workforce Coalition of industry interests issued a conciliatory news release regarding Goodlatte's bills, calling them an important first step, standing by its agreement with UFW and saying action is needed to fix a "badly broken" system that is untenable for farmers and ranchers.
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., who helped negotiate the Senate bill, said the House bills have certain things that would be better and worse for the agricultural industry.
But the industry negotiated and came to an agreement on such items with UFW and honors that agreement, he said.
"We hope what comes out of the House will closely resemble the Senate bill," Nassif said.
Committee mark up of the Senate bill is to begin May 6 and technical corrections are being made to align the bill with the UFW and AWC agreement, he said.
"We realize we have a long way to go. Both parties and both houses want it completed in a conference committee before the August recess," he said.