NTF Part 3: Immigration

In part 3 of 3 in our NTF position review, we have summarized their issue paper on immigration and how it affects the poultry industry.

The turkey industry accounts for $10 billion worth of turkey products and employs over 100,000 workers in more than 60 plants around the country. Generally speaking, workers in the turkey industry earn salaries higher than the minimum wage and are able to acquire health insurance through these jobs; however, as turkey plants are frequently located in rural areas, workers have to be recruited from sources other than the local community. Reliance on immigrants to fill these positions means that common sense immigration reform is a necessity to the poultry industry.

Comprehensive immigration reform must include several policy provisions to create positive changes for famers and other workers in the turkey industry. Employer liability, labor access, anti-discrimination liability, earned legalization, e-verify, guest worker programs and border enforcement are the central issues in creating a better functioning system for workers and employers alike.

The Legal Workforce Act is a promising framework for addressing employer liability but could be more efficient with some changes. Employers need a method to ensure that new workers are verified to work in the U.S. along with access to tools  addressing identity theft. If an employer uses the verification system lawfully, they should not be held liable for immigration infractions resulting from illegal documentation. In order to expand the turkey industry, employers need protection so they are able to hire workers in both large plants and small businesses without fear of retribution for unknowingly hiring illegal workers. Related to this issue is the need for expansion of the visa program for full-time, lower skilled workers and not just within the seasonal industries.

The existing E-verify program has the potential to efficiently prevent identity fraud, but is not adequate in its current form. E-verify allows for electronic verification of worker’s employment authorization documents and aids employers in confirming legal status and identity. A large number of poultry companies use E-Verify, regardless of its flaws, because it remains the sole hiring tool for immigration compliance. These flaws must be addressed to strengthen the poultry workforce. Identity theft is not sufficiently undertaken by the current program. Workers are able to commit identity theft through obtaining Social Security numbers or work authorization numbers that exist, but do not belong to them; therefore, employers end up hiring workers illegally and face the consequences of fines and the loss of trained workers.

As there is no legal avenue for skilled laborers to enter the United Stated for employment purposes most workers obtain employment illegally. The small amount of permanent visas and current temporary work programs are solely directed at seasonal labor, which creates a problem for manufacturers needing full-time employees. The poultry and meat industries need a stronger guest worker program in order to fill available jobs with legal, skilled immigrant workers.