Posted on September 6, 2013

Feinstein Wants ICE to Stop Farm Audits

Stacy Finz, San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2013

At the height of California’s harvest, during a critical farm labor shortage, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has asked immigration officials to stop cracking down on undocumented field workers, saying she is concerned that it could lead to financial losses and higher food prices. Feinstein, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus its prosecutions on violent criminals instead of agricultural employers and their workers. She has asked the agency to discontinue its I-9 farm audits, a verification process that assures that an employee has authorization to work in the United States.

“Many farmers and growers in California informed me that their business and livelihood are at risk due to a shortage of legal harvesters, pickers, pruners, packers and farm workers,” Feinstein wrote in a Sept. 3 letter to Janet Napolitano, the outgoing secretary of Homeland Security. “As you can imagine, with approximately 81,000 farms in California, I am very concerned that these audits will result in significant harm to the agricultural industry and the state’s overall economy.”


California, where farming is a $37.5 billion business, is the largest agricultural state in the nation. Of the 1.2 million people employed in agriculture-related jobs in the U.S., the government estimates that 70 percent are undocumented.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Homeland Security will respond directly to Feinstein. She would not address whether the agency would stop the audits, which she said are not random and are prompted by tips. {snip}

“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes efforts first on those who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, not sweeps or raids to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately,” Kice said in a statement.

But farmers say the stringent background checks–including E-Verify, an Internet database that checks whether a worker is legal–tougher immigration restrictions, border violence and a weakened job market in the United States have stopped many seasonal workers from making the trek from Mexico.


“Because the reality is that the majority of farm workers in the U.S. are foreign-born and unauthorized–which is well known–I am afraid that this aggressive worksite enforcement strategy will deprive the agricultural sector of most of its workforce and cause farmers and related industries across the country significant economic harm, as well as driving up food prices for consumers,” the senator wrote.

Kice responded that “the audits specifically focus on employers who cultivate illegal workplaces by breaking the country’s laws and knowingly hiring illegal workers. This strategy also reduced the need for large-scale immigration enforcement actions and focuses on form I-9 audits as an important administrative tool in building criminal cases and bringing employers into compliance with the law.”