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Franken seeks to improve E-Verify rules

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) told reporters Thursday that he'll try to get farms and small businesses treated differently in a Senate immigration bill that would eventually require all businesses to use the federal government's E-Verify system to determine if an employee has legal status.

Franken, a member of the Judiciary Committee that is responsible for the bill introduced this week, said the existing system isn't accurate and will put a burden on small businesses that don't have large human resource departments.

"That's the problem right now, is that you have  too many false positives, and this puts a burden on small businesses," he told reporters in a press conference where he was joined by dairy farmer, Pat Lunemann, president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

Lunemann said that if farmers face the risk of a lawsuit from former employees who are incorrectly identified as undocumented workers by the E-Verify System. He said he'd like to see farms and small businesses exempted from the requirement to use E-Verify.

According to Franken, the system has a high number of false positives.

"The last independent audit of E-Verify said it rejected legal American workers once every 140 times," Franken said. "If your car had that kind of error rate, it would break down at least four times a year. That kind of error rate won't work for businesses and it definitely won't work for small businesses."

Still, Franken said he's pleased that the bill has been introduced and that business, labor and agriculture have been able to work together for it.

"The fact is, our immigration system is broken and it's been a drag on the economy," Franken said.

Lunemann said that half of the cows in the United States are milked by immigrant labor

"We do need legislation that works for family businesses and family farms," he said.

Franken said the bill is an improvement over the current H-2A program that provides only seasonal, not year-round, legal guest workers for agriculture.

Although cows can be milked on a seasonal basis, that's not the system used on most Minnesota dairies.

"You'd have a lot of uncomfortable cows if you tried to milk them seasonally in Minnesota," Franken joked.

The bill also provides for just 112,000 legal agricultural guest workers in the first year of the new program, although the H-2A program would also continue as the new one is phased in. And some 1 million ag workers now in this country without documentation would be given a chance to stay and eventually seek citizenship.

When asked if the 112,000 guest workers will be enough, Franken deferred to Lunemann.

"I think 112,000 is a rather small number," Lunemann said. "I'm not sure I have an answer as to what is the appropriate one."

Franken said that's one of the facets of the bill he'll be looking at. He also questions part of the bill that would no longer allow legal residents to bring siblings to this country.

Some immigrants to Minnesota, including the Hmong from southeast Asia and those from Somalia, are refugees who have lost their parents, Franken said. "In those families, the older siblings often act as a parent," Franken said.  

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