Van Wingerden International’s Bert Lemkes joined other growers and business owners July 13 in a march on Capitol Hill to share their perspective on the impact a mandatory E-Verify system will have on agriculture.
The march, called the Fly-In, was organized by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. SAF and representatives of the Produce Marketing Association joined Lemkes in meetings with the staffs of North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, as well as seven other House of Representatives’ offices.
“I am an immigrant too,” Lemkes told offices of the North Carolina congressional delegation. “I made the decision, after I came here on a visa, to become a U.S. citizen, because this is the best country in the world. But E-Verify, if it is passed without provisions for agriculture, will be the end of agriculture as we know it here.”
The Legal Workforce Act has already been introduced by the House judiciary chairman to mandate that employers use E-Verify for all new hires. According to SAF, agriculture is given a three-year deferral in the bill. The deferral simply delays the problem rather than providing a solution. But SAF indicates even the deferral has many loopholes.
“Having Bert Lemkes leave his business at production time to come to Washington, was a huge benefit for the entire floral industry,” says SAF’s Lin Schmale. “He gave an articulate and experienced voice to this debate, and that is invaluable. Washington wants to hear directly from constituents.”