Farmers like Manuel Cunha Jr. are worried that an already tight labor supply may vanish overnight because the Social Security Administration has started to send “no-match” letters to employers.
The federal agency is questioning the Social Security numbers and names of workers that do not match with those on file. It asks employers to resolve the discrepancies but strongly tells them not to lay off, suspend or terminate those individuals due to state and federal laws that might be violated. Employers have 60 days to resolve the matter.
The problem, said Cunha, is that there is no solution.
About 37 area businesses that employ about 37,000 workers have received the letters, which have flagged more than 22,000 workers as ‘no-match’ employees.
“It’s putting the employer in this nightmare of not knowing what’s going to happen to them,” said Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, during an April 16 press conference hosted by Congressmen Jim Costa and TJ Cox, both Democrats from Fresno.
More than half of the nation’s farmworkers are undocumented, according to studies. The consequences could heavily damage the agriculturally rich San Joaquín Valley and other regions in the state, said state Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.
“Eighty percent of the nation’s lettuce is grown in my district. Ninety-nine percent of nation’s almonds, pistachios, asparagus and other crops are grown here in our state,” said Caballero.
Last year, Caballero said, she spoke with farmers who had to let crops rot in the field due to a lack of labor.
“The immigration situation has created fear and trembling in rural California,” said Caballero, whose district runs from Avenal in the south, up to Modesto and swings west to the Salinas Valley. “It is such that there is no longer a workforce coming here to pick this produce.”
Costa and Cox blasted the no-match letters as a bad tactic from the Trump administration to move on immigration reform. They also said the Social Security Administration has no business getting into immigration enforcement.
“Frankly, this administration has been terrible for agriculture, both on the trade side and the immigration side,” said Cox. “This letter that the Social Security Administration sent out is no help whatsoever.”
Costa said immigrants add value to the United States, and that undocumented workers supplement Social Security without any hope of receiving benefits.
Costa and Cox have joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Josh Harder and Jimmy Panetta in penning a letter to Nancy Berryhill, the acting commissioner of the federal agency.
The letter asks Berryhill to explain how the agency decided to reinstate the practice of sending no-match letters, the consequences for non-compliance, and if information was shared with other federal agencies, among other questions.
“Effectively, the SSA’s no-match letters enlist employers in immigration enforcement,” the letter said. “These employers are placed in a difficult and often costly position.”
The letter admits that work records may not match Social Security information because a worker used a false name or Social Security number. “This is most common when an employee is undocumented and not authorized to work” in the country, the letter said. Those undocumented workers, they wrote, paid $12 billion into the Social Security system.
Cox said such action will lead to higher produce costs for consumers and harm the economy.
Fowler City Councilmember Daniel Parra said cities will suffer from a loss of tax revenue, and that school districts might also be impacted.
WBC super lightweight champion José Ramírez, who grew up in Avenal in a farmworker family, said the no-match letters will only harm the lives “of honest, hardworking people. This is not the way to get immigration reform.”