Vermont farmers under scrutiny of Department of Homeland Security

08/11/07 4:54PM By Ross Sneyd
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(Host) Vermont farmers will be among those targeted by the Homeland Security Department when it begins cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Farmers say Congress needs to do more to help them.

VPR's Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Vermont dairy farms have increasingly turned to immigrant labor to milk the cows and work the fields.

A lot of those new workers - as many as two-thousand - have come from Mexico. And some of them are believed to be illegal immigrants.

In the absence of immigration reform, the Homeland Security Department expects to adopt new rules cracking down on employers who have illegal immigrants on their payroll.

Russ Knocke of the Homeland Security Department says officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement - known as ICE - will be tracking employers.


(Knocke) For those employers that blatantly disregard the law and ignore no-match letters, what it means is that they're going to be facing pretty tough consequences if they come on to ICE's radar screen.

(Sneyd) Under the new rules, Homeland Security will be working more closely with the Social Security Administration.

Social Security informs employers when a worker's name and number don't match what the federal government has on record - what Knocke calls ``no-match letters.''

Unless the letter's an error or the worker is let go, employers could face fines of 10-thousand dollars.

But the head of the Vermont Farm Bureau says farmers shouldn't be expected to sort out who's legal and who's not.

Jackie Folsom says her family farm in Cabot has always accepted the documents provided by prospective workers.

(Folsom) They give us what they say is their Social Security number. We put it on the paperwork. That's about as far as we're able to go. And I think that's the same ruling as applies to any other employer.

(Sneyd) Governor Jim Douglas agrees with her.

He says Congress is the problem because it hasn't reformed immigration law.

(Douglas) I hope that this more aggressive stance by the Homeland Security Department will prompt the Congress to act when they come back next month.

Senator Patrick Leahy's staff says he's working with other senators on a bill that would allow farm workers to stay in the United States for three years on a special immigration visa. At the end of that period, they'd get a green card allowing them to stay indefinitely.

For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd.

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