(Aug. 10) The Department of Homeland Security is expected to publish a final ruling in the Federal Register the week of Aug. 13, one that sources said likely will tighten an already insufficient supply of agricultural labor.

“There will be a crisis,” said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif. “It could be during harvest in the fall. We’re having trouble enough as it is.”

Under a rule proposed by the department in June, it will work with the Social Security Administration to crack down on illegal immigration. According to Homeland Security, of the 250 million wage reports that the Social Security Administration receives each year, 10% belong to workers whose names don’t match their Social Security numbers.

Employers with a “no match” worker will have 60 days from the time of federal notification to either reconcile an employee’s name and number or fire that worker. Businesses that don’t comply could face fines of up to $10,000.

Homeland Security is expected to step up raids of businesses that employ illegal immigrants. Guy Witney, director of industry affairs at the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, said the agency is expected to target industries with a high proportion of illegal immigrants, including agriculture.

“Workers used to show up at the gate looking for work,” he said. “That’s trickled down to nothing in the past 18 months. Going from farm to farm, looking for work, has become intimidating for some of the migrants.”

Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said there are 27 documents prospective employees can use to prove their eligibility to work.

“Requiring employers to act as policemen isn’t a fair way to address the issue,” he said. “Employers aren’t document experts. The Department of Homeland Security needs to narrow the list of documents to better enable employers to tell who is authorized to work.”

Mitch Ardantz, vice president of sales and marketing at Santa Maria, Calif.-based Bonipak Produce Co., said the company does everything it can to make sure workers are legal.

“Do most of the people who come in from outside the country have documentation? Yes,” he said. “Do they have less than savory documents? Possibly.”

Media reports have suggested that as many as 70% of the nation’s agricultural fieldworkers are illegal.

“It could be that high,” Guenther said. “We’re in that realm of numbers.”