Stepped-up federal immigration enforcement efforts are causing farmers and growers to use the H-2A guestworker program more, the Seattle Times reports. The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to hire foreign workers if the state work force agency certifies no citizens or legal immigrants are available to do the work. Unscrupulous farmers and growers that had being using illegal alien labor now fear getting caught in the enforcement web, so they are turning to the legal alternative that had been there for them all along.

The Times notes that U.S. farmers hired only about 77,000 foreign workers under H-2A last year. That number is now expected to rise.

As employers, farmers and growers are responsible for screening the documents of new hires and maintaining the I-9 forms they have filled out. If they want to comply with the law and avoid hiring illegal aliens, they can use the E-Verify system to check the eligibility of new hires to work in the U.S. E-Verify, in fact, gives safe harbor to employers that use the system in good faith.

Many employers instead choose to trust the referrals from state work force offices, which are responsible for advertising locally for jobs and referring either domestic applicants or foreign workers under H-2A. A problem has arisen, however, because these offices may not have been checking whether the workers they refer are actually work eligible.

Last November, the Labor Department sent state work force offices a “guidance letter” confirming the requirement to check workers' documents before referring them to farmers and growers. Such offices must now verify eligibility by submitting an I-9 form themselves to the Department or by using E-Verify. The Times reports a number of states objected to the “guidance,” which they say comes without additional implementation funds, and cites an Associated Press survey that found only four of the 12 leading guestworker-using states -- Texas, Montana, Kentucky and Tennessee -- had committed to meeting the requirement by March. Utah, Virginia and Louisiana have signed on since then because the Labor Department threatened to cut money for their offices, although others are exploring legal options for fighting the requirement.

Low-skilled Americans

Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:30pm EDT