Yesterday, I testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, and Refugees. Here is my written testimony, and the video of the testimony is here. While I am appreciative of the opportunity to present my case to the Senators, it was disheartening to hear all the other witnesses declare without equivocation that Americans, all Americans, are unwilling to work as farm laborers, in spite of the fact that government data shows that around 30 percent of hired farm laborers are U.S. citizens.
According to Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture, lobbyists for agribusiness, and a representative of the United Farm Workers (UFW) the reasons why Americans will not take farm jobs is because they are lazy, out of shape, inflexible in their work habits, addicted to drugs or alcohol, dependent on welfare, and physically unsuited for working outdoors in summer heat. Mr. Arturo Rodriquez, speaking on behalf of the UFW testified that Americans are not skilled enough to prune plants and even incapable of picking crops without damaging them.
I was the only witness to argue the point that if agricultural employees paid a living wage to their workers, more Americans would be willing to take farm jobs. I also told the Senators that the effectiveness of H-2A program, or any other temporary guest worker program, cannot be accurately assessed as long as agricultural employers can continue to hire workers illegally. I did agree that criticisms by farmers that the H-2A program is too bureaucratic and time-consuming should be addressed by Congress. FAIR’s intent is to see the H-2A program used properly and in the most effective manner by employers.
My testimony outraged Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif .), which is not surprising considering the contributions she has received from the agribusiness lobby. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) offered as a solution, apparently in jest, that farms be air-conditioned in order to attract American workers. Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked me some substantive questions that demonstrated their understanding that the interests of agribusiness should not dominate U.S. immigration policy. Senator Blumenthal was receptive to the idea of holding employers who knowingly hire illegal workers criminally responsible as a way to curtail illegal immigration, though he also voiced support for a program that would legalize workers that are currently working illegally in the agriculture industry.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) made it very clear to the agribusiness panel that a low-wage foreign workforce is not something they have the right to demand. He also stated that any bill that included amnesty as part of guest worker reform could not pass the Senate. That was encouraging to hear. Hopefully, instead, Congress will focus on making E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers, and politicians in Washington, D.C., will support states’ efforts to ensure a legal workforce.