Americans: Overlooked and Underpaid

Without considering the needs of his fellow Americans, an activist farmer in Michigan is calling for blanket amnesty on behalf of illegal aliens. His call stems from a lack of American citizens applying for open positions on his farm.

“I spend thousands of dollars every year advertising my job openings, but few Americans reply,” wrote Fred Leitz for the Michigan newspaper The Herald-Palladium. “Those I do hire usually leave after a few weeks, because they find the work too hard.”

This statement by Mr. Leitz, former chairman of the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), contains a flaw. Americans don’t typically leave jobs simply because they are too hard, they leave because they are underpaid for the work they are doing. If a job offering a fair market wage was presented, it would attract more American workers. With a higher pay, more Americans will stay.

Faced with an alleged lack of workers, Mr. Leitz said he resorted to the H-2A visa program, which allowed him to bring in 160 workers from Mexico.

“First, if an American with agricultural experience shows up asking for a job, I’m required to send an H-2A worker home and hire the American,” he wrote. “And without fail, that American quits shortly after.”

Raising the wages of farmhands up by 40 percent would only increase the price of a pound of produce by four cents. Most Americans wouldn’t mind this increase if it meant their fellow citizens found gainful employment.

Mr. Leitz also said he has to pay approximately $1,600 per immigrant worker for their housing, transportation, and visa when he brings them to the U.S. This is money that could be used to pay Americans a better wage.

Employees at Mr. Leitz’s farm were only guaranteed $11.56 per hour for general labor in 2015, according to a job posting. While Mr. Leitz quit advertising his farm positions by name in 2018, a job opening with the exact same address now pays $13.06 per hour. According to the Department of Labor, unless they fall within an exemption, employers who hire H-2A workers and citizens must pay everyone at least the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), which is considered the minimum fair wage for agriculture work. In Michigan, that is $13.06 per hour. So Mr. Leitz is paying just enough to avoid trouble. Not only that, his employees have to work Monday through Saturday.

Mr. Leitz said he doesn’t hire illegal aliens, but he does “wish we could turn the undocumented workers into a legal workforce.” After encouraging our government to let illegal aliens work, he also called for a path to citizenship for the illegal aliens in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

We have a historic precedent that demonstrates that amnesty would not solve Mr. Leitz’s self-induced problem. In 1986 Congress enacted a special amnesty for illegal aliens who had (or claimed to have) worked in agriculture. The result? These newly legalized workers promptly left their poor paying agricultural jobs for better paying jobs in other sectors of the economy, only to be replaced by the next wave of illegal aliens.

Inevitably, the viability of American agriculture will depend on capital investment in mechanization or in paying lawfully present workers a fair wage, not endless amnesties for illegal aliens who are willing to accept the industry’s substandard wages and working conditions.

About Author


Casey joined FAIR in 2018. He assists the research team with projects and writes for FAIR’S website. He previously spent a year working in journalism in Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in Journalism in 2017.


  1. avatar
    Russell Costanxa on

    Cast Ryan, you must be an in-experanced writer who assumes without researching the subject matter and the person you attack. If you had researched the subject matter, including the NCAE, and it’s past President you would have been educated that the NCAE, it’s members and Presidents have a 52 year common goal of sourcing a viable,legal, accepting workforce. A perrered source is always domestic. As this country had before WWII. That is when America’s farm worker shortage became dependent on foreign labor. Some during those war years were paid POW’s.
    You mentioned IRCA 1986 being a fix. That was 32 years ago. Those workers have mostly aged out of the workforce.
    Before you attack a person, who has personal financed his expenses during decades of trips to Washington DC to tell his farm worker shortage story to Members of House, Senate, and White House staff. Of his shortage of farm workers and that of fellow fruit and vegetable farmers across America.
    I suggest you give him and the NCAE a call to hear their story. Another source is Senator Feinstein D California , Senator Perdue R Ga. and the Sec. of Agriculture. Perdue. Or any fruit and vegetable growers who hires farm workers under Misfa.

    • avatar

      If they were willing to pay more than the absolute minimum, they wouldn’t need as many foreigners. And as the writer states, wouldn’t it be better to dump that money he pays for housing, transportation, and the visa into better wages?

      (And don’t try your worker shortage nonsense on me, I grew up on a farm so I know the deal)

  2. avatar
    Patricia Watkins on

    When I was younger into my late 40’s, I worked seasonal jobs to pick up extra money. It was very physical work stocking huge tall racks of plants in stores that sold outdoor plants and I am only 5 ft tall. I worked in whatever weather, rainy, chilly, windy, or hot & sunny. I stuck with it because I basically liked it and it gave me extra money. It paid around 8-10 bucks an hour. It was very physical work and as an American I got it done. As I have gotten older, I now have back problems with my spine that limits what I can physically do. Otherwise, I would probably do that kind of work again just for extra money & I like working with plants. There is a business about an hour or more away from my locale that can never get enough outdoor workers and they pay around $15 an hour. They only hire legal workers. I do support bringing in low wage agricultural workers to support these businesses who truly cannot get enough people to stay on the job since it is very physical work. A lot of bending and lifting, etc. Foreign Visa workers should be allowed to come in to do these jobs, but NO making them legal residents. And I think that allowing them to pop out kids who become American citizens just for being born on our soil needs to stop too.

  3. avatar

    He only wants to pay $13/hr for hard labor, when jobs in convenience stores, etc. that are “inside work with [almost no] heavy lifting” pay at least ten bucks per? Hmm? Work in an air-conditioned store or out in the hot sun? Has this farmer done the math? What percentage of his total overhead does his direct labor represent?