Last week, New York Ag Commissioner Pat Hooker wrote to President George Bush, expressing concern over the Department of Homeland Security's new "no match" policy. In short, it would place an undue enforcement burden on family businesses.
DHS's "no match" policy would require all farmers and other employers to match employee names and Social Security numbers via the Social Security Administration. That policy was at least temporarily stalled with a "stay" order by a federal court judge in California. (For more on that, see related story on this Web site.) The decision is scheduled to be revisited in early October.
The DHS guidelines require employers to resolve the discrepancies within 90 days of SSA notification. Failure would invite severe penalties.
"I understand the importance of addressing this issue in light of the failure to reform the nation's immigration system," Hooker told the President. "But, I'm deeply concerned that the methods outlined will do little to establish what's truly needed – a reasonable framework within which employers can work to ensure the viability of their businesses and secure a reliable workforce."
Should the employer fail to follow the strict verification protocols, they may be deemed to have had constructive knowledge that the employee is unauthorized to work in the United States. Further, the penalty for this offense was increased by approximately 25%.
'No match' hang-ups
Hooker urged built-in legal protections for employers obtaining clarifying information from workers with inaccurate information. He also inquired into how to verify seasonal employees who already left and how to reconcile contradictions between DHS's new 90-day termination policy.
Current SSA policy prohibits the use of such letters as grounds for employee termination. Unless these and other issues are clarified, this policy is likely to be arbitrarily interpreted and inconsistently enforced.
"Farmers deserve a stable workforce through an improved temporary ag labor program and solutions for a year-round workforce. I respectfully request that the federal government not place an expensive, undue enforcement burden on these family businesses."
Hooker also shared results from a recent study commissioned by the Farm Credit Associations of New York. "It conservatively estimates that if the migrant workforce is lost, New York State could lose approximately 900 farms, $195 million in production value and over 200,000 acres of land in ag production over the next two years."