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NC Farms, Other Businesses Get More Wiggle Room With E-Verify

One of the laws that state legislators upheld Wednesday despite Governor Pat McCrory's veto is a measure designed to give farmers extra wiggle room in hiring seasonal workers.

Any business in North Carolina with at least 25 employees is required to submit documentation on each worker to the Department of Homeland Security. The program is called E-Verify, and it's supposed to prevent immigrants in the country illegally from getting jobs.

But seasonal, temporary employees don't have to be cleared through that system in North Carolina, so long as they work fewer than three months a year.

State lawmakers created the exemption specifically to help farmers, who N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said have a hard time finding enough qualified U.S. citizens to work in their fields. 

"We did a survey of about 600 farms in North Carolina back earlier in the year, and a large majority of those farms certainly had problems securing enough labor," Wooten said.

He said even the three-month exemption to the E-Verify program isn't sufficient because many seasonal workers get here in March and stay through October.

So North Carolina lawmakers expanded the exemption to cover anyone working fewer than 9 months a year. Representative Harry Warren of Rowan County was a primary sponsor.

"This is just another relaxation of a regulatory requirement for agriculture, which is by far the largest business we've got in this state, doing $74 to $77 billion a year," Warren said.  

He said the bill does not authorize employers to hire anyone here illegally - there are already laws against that.

The exemption goes far beyond short-term work and doesn't just apply to farmers. Construction companies, retail stores and other businesses can use it. Here's Governor Pat McCrory's take:

"This law was originally designed to help our farmers, but what was created was a loophole big enough to drive a truck through," McCrory said in a video message last month urging the public to support his veto.

That's a veto state lawmakers from both parties easily overrode. The new exemption goes into effect immediately.