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April 2018, Volume 24, Number 2

California: ICE, T&A

In the winter of 2018, ICE agents conducted sweeps around California seeking particular unauthorized foreigners, and arrested 232 unauthorized foreigners in four days in late February, including 26 farm workers in Kern county. Delano-area husband-and-wife farm workers died in a March 13, 2018 car crash while trying to evade ICE agents, leaving six children, four of whom are US citizens.

ICE said that half of those arrested had been convicted of felonies in the US; the others were "encountered" during the search for criminals. Some farmers say that their unauthorized workers have become targets because of the suits between the US Department of Justice and the state of California.

ICE is doing more audits of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 completed by farm-related employers and newly hired employees. I-9 audits of the forms completed by newly hired workers and their employers peaked in FY13 at 3,100. ICE conducted 1,360 I-9 audits around the US in FY17, which led to 139 criminal arrests, 172 administrative arrests and over $100 million in fines.

In February 2018, ICE conducted I-9 audits at 5,000-employee Pitman Family Farms and the Poindexter Nut Company in Sanger, 500-employee Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler, and citrus packer Fresh Select LLC in Dinuba. Dozens of employees quit or were dismissed; Bee Sweet lost 40 workers, eight percent of its workforce.

Before ICE audits I-9 forms, employers are given three days to make their I-9 forms available for inspection; California law requires employers to notify their employees of upcoming ICE audits. The NGO Faith in the Valley said that ICE audits increase fears in migrant communities.

After ICE audits, employers receive Notices of Suspect Documents from ICE that inform them which workers appear to be unauthorized and instruct employers to "take action" on them within 10 days. Employers face fines of $216 to $2,126 for I-9 paperwork violations, and $548 to $4,384 for knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. Employers with a "pattern or practice" of hiring unauthorized workers face criminal penalties.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in February 2018 that more women are filling jobs in Napa-Sonoma as men find nonfarm jobs. Renteria Vineyard Management says that the share of women in its workforce quadrupled from seven to 30 percent over the past decade. The article profiled a woman from Michoacan who earns at least $16 an hour at Renteria and up to $1,200 a week during the harvest season, when Renteria pays piece-rate wages. The woman remits $800 a week to three children in Mexico.

T&A. Tanimura & Antle is a Salinas-based vegetable producer founded in 1982 with 2,500 year-round employees who harvest lettuce and other vegetables. T&A was paying harvest workers at least $13 an hour in 2018 and offering group-incentive bonuses to bring average earnings to $16 to $17 an hour. Workers employed at least 1,000 hours at T&A can buy stock via the employee stock ownership program that began in February 2017.

T&A constructed housing in Spreckels for up to 800 H-2A workers, but wound up attracting US workers to the dorm-style housing. US workers have priority for farm jobs, and many were willing to work for T&A because of the low-cost housing. T&A houses 800 H-2A workers in Yuma, Arizona during the winter vegetable harvest. T&A says that 400 workers or a seventh of its core workforce has been with T&A more than 20 years.

Santa Maria has a growing berry industry that is increasingly reliant on H-2A workers. In March 2018, the city council placed restrictions on the use of family homes to house more than six H-2A workers after one employer attempted to house 16 H-2A workers in a single family home for $500 a week each. Half of Santa Maria residents are tenants who pay an average $1,200 a month; employers seeking housing for H-2A workers are willing to pay higher rents.