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.