Activists supporting immigration reform on Tuesday launched a Spanish-language campaign in California against E-Verify, a federal employment eligibility program that critics say will destroy the U.S. agriculture sector.

During a telephone press conference, activists said that the campaign seeks to educate the public about the negative effects of a Republican bill approved in the House Judiciary Committee to make use of E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers.

The campaign will consist initially of 250 ads on multiple radio stations in Sacramento, Santa Barbara and the San Gabriel Valley and an ad in Los Angeles' La Opinion, the country's largest circulation Spanish-language daily.

Down the road, activists are weighing broadening the ad campaign to Texas and to districts of other GOP lawmakers who are backing E-Verify.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the America's Voice group, said that the bill proposed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the Judiciary Committee, would lead to the firing of "hundreds of thousands of workers," will undermine the labor rights of all Latinos and will encourage the "exploitation" of undocumented workers, in particular in the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, Eliseo Medina, with the Service Employees International Union, said that Smith's bill will not resolve the shortage of cheap labor in agriculture and will end up hurting workers, employers and the economy.

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers union, said that the viable solution is to "legalize" the workers who are already employed in the fields, instead of replacing them with "guest workers," as proposed by several Republican legislators.

Smith's bill is facing great opposition from the agricultural sector and, according to analysts, its chances of becoming law are remote.

The Texas congressman argues that, with the current economic crisis, the measure will obligate companies to divest themselves of undocumented workers and give those jobs to Americans.

But the activists cast doubt on whether Americans, in particular professionals, will be willing to move to the country to work as laborers under unstable conditions and for low pay.

E-Verify allows the immigration status of employees to be verified via the Social Security and Department of Homeland Security databases, but - up to now - participation has been voluntary, except for companies that solicit and obtain federal government contracts.

The activists say that it is ironic that the Republicans, who support less government interference in national life, are now promoting a bill that means larger and more costly government "intrusion" into business activities.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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