Earlier this year the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing to learn what is needed to transfer from H-2A to a workable agricultural guest worker program. Here are excerpts of testimony presented at the hearing.
“Farmers have done their best in the last two decades to work within a broken system. A few have been able to navigate the difficulties and expense of the H-2A program – for many others, they have relied upon work authorization documents that, in too many instances, are fraudulent.
But federal law has strictly barred them from questioning those documents, and as a result, we now have a labor force that is far too reliant on workers who lack proper work authorization.
Due to faulty administration of the H-2A program, demographic shifts, an aging workforce and the likelihood of heightened enforcement, this system is near collapse. It is not sustainable. Agriculture seeks a solution that provides our farmers and ranchers access to a stable, legal, reliable solution.”
President, American Farm Bureau Federation
“We are focused on five major themes: border security, a very simple improvement to the E-Verify system as an alternative to a national identity card, clarity in anti-discrimination laws, an occupational visa category that our industry can use that could be tied to local or regional employment, and options to effectively address the 11 million undocumented workers in the shadows of our economy.
“To date, much of the discussion has focused on the need to retain highly skilled workers such as scientists and engineers, and the need for additional temporary agricultural workers. These are important objectives, but they do not meet the needs of our industry sector.
Our workers are neither highly skilled nor temporary. We are manufacturers, wanting a stable and permanent workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where we do business.”
Michael J. Brown
President, National Chicken Council
“Farmers who participate in the H-2A program do so as a matter of last resort and conscience. They do it because they know that, realistically, most of the available labor is illegal, and they don’t want to break the law.
“A guest worker program should help farmers who are willing to pay a fair wage for law-abiding, dependable workers, not punish them. For this reason, I support replacing the H-2A program and implementing new policies that will bring our illegal agricultural workers out of the shadows as a first step in the process of overhauling our nation’s immigration system.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman
“We need a new model for our future agriculture worker program. …The program would include incentives for workers to return home after the terms of their visa or work obligations are completed.
Additionally, workers’ visa status would be synced with an E-Verify system, guaranteeing that someone with a visa to work in agriculture would not be able to gain legal employment in another sector.
“It is also imperative for this program to address, not only the need for future employees, but also the need to retain our experienced employees, the people who are already here. Our farms could not function without these valuable farm employees, yet most work without proper immigration status.
“There is not a person in our country that is not connected to this problem. If you eat fresh produce, drink milk, grill steaks or purchase plants for your yard, you are benefiting from the hard work of a foreign agricultural worker.”
President and CEO, Western Growers
“There are three areas of grave concern affecting today’s workforce that have resulted in a labor-starved agricultural industry and a threat to the food supply of this great nation.
First, our current limited domestic agriculture labor force is aging – the baby boomers are getting older and not being replaced by younger workers. Second, my personal experience, which mirrors so many other employers, demonstrates there are insufficient numbers of agricultural workers and a general unwillingness of available American workers to take on these jobs.
The third issue negatively impacting the agriculture industry is the lack of action on immigration at a national level that has forced states to act independently. All of these issues put at risk our domestically produced, safe food supply and our national security.”
President and CEO, Titan Farms Produce, Ridge Spring, South Carolina
“We ask this subcommittee to support a new, comprehensive immigration process that grants current farmworkers and their family members a reasonable and prompt opportunity to earn legal immigration status and citizenship and ensures that future workers are brought here in a manner that elevates farm work.
By having such a system, we can ensure that we continue to have an agricultural industry that is the envy of the world and honor all of the women and men who have built such an exceptional domestic food supply.” PD
Vice President, United Farm Workers