Bert Lemkes, co-owner of Van Wingerden Intl., Mills River, NC is testifying today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. The subcommittee is holding 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 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.”
“This latest in a series of E-Verify hearings signals a renewed push for passage of mandatory E-Verify legislation,” according to Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association and co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. “Agriculture has been clear to E-Verify proponents: E-Verify will decimate American agriculture unless you give us a market based and practical visa program to address the farm labor crisis,” Regelbrugge added.
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.”
Read Lemkes' full testimony here.