Sen. Feinstein Urges Halt to Farm Worker Deportations

Thursday, 05 Sep 2013 12:57 PM

By Courtney Coren

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on Immigration authorities to adopt the same non-deportation policy for illegal farm workers that it has for illegal immigrants that came to the United States as children, saying that increased deportations of farm workers is hurting the state's economy.

According to the Hill, the California Democrat explained in an a letter Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the deportations are taking a toll as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency cracks down on agriculture employers in the state looking for work status violators. The deportations are creating a worker shortage because, she says, there aren't enough domestic workers to fill the jobs.

"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. "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."

Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-authored the Agricultural Worker Program with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Orrin Hatch of Utah as part of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June.

In her letter, the senator asked that ICE focus its enforcement efforts on illegal immigrants that have committed serious crimes, and halt the general I-9 worksite enforcements that go after illegal workers.

"I respectfully suggest that you adopt a policy of exercising prosecutorial discretion to defer enforcement against agricultural employers and workers, and concentrate instead on removing those who would and have harmed our society, rather than those who contribute to our vital agricultural economy and heritage, and the safe and high-quality food supply that benefits all Americans," Feinstein wrote.

"Immigration and Customs Enforcement has wisely used its prosecutorial discretion to defer removal of young people who arrived in the United States without documentation as children, recognizing that our limited resources are better spent targeting aliens with criminal records or who otherwise present a threat to the safety of the United States," she added.

Feinstein sent a similar letter to former ICE Director John Morton in June 2012 expressing the same concern about the "increase in I-9 worksite audits" and the effect it could have on California's economy, saying the focus should be on "individuals involved in cross-border crimes such as human trafficking and drug smuggling."

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