It's fruit season, which means lots of excited chatter about apricot jam, peaches, and cherry pie. With the recent crop report forecasting that Washington's 2009 peach output could be up 15% over last year, it's sure to be a hectic time for farmers and their workers. This month, things are getting even busier--but not necessarily in a good way.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement began serving "Notices of Inspection" to hundreds of businesses around the country, including 26 in the Pacific Northwest. ICE will be investigating and auditing employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers. This directly impacts Washington farmers, as they rely on a seasonal labor force made up of mostly immigrant workers.
In response, The Washington Farm Bureau held two workshops this past Tuesday to teach farmers the proper procedures for completing and retaining I-9 forms (the employment eligibility documents employers fill out for all workers), as well as steps to prepare for an ICE investigation. Both workshops were sold out.