House Passes Bill that Grants Amnesty, Sanctions Indentured Servitude, and Proves Mark Twain Wrong

On Dec. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives, a body that has managed to accomplish exactly nothing of import in this session, somehow managed to achieve a dubious trifecta.

With bipartisan support, the House approved the ironically named Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038) by a vote of 260-165. It seems that 260 members are unaware of what century they live in, as they have taken “modernization” to mean eschewing technology and mechanization for low-wage manual labor. The bill grants amnesty to about 1.5 million illegal aliens, and sets a decade or more of indentured servitude to their employers as a condition of their amnesty.

In one vote on the House floor, lawmakers managed to reward illegal behavior (and likely encourage more of it), sanction regressive 17th century labor practices, and discourage true modernization of one of our most vital industries. Not bad for a day’s work!

The bill is also a near carbon copy of the failed and fraud-ridden 1986 amnesty program that legalized 1.1 million (real and alleged) illegal agricultural workers. Here’s where Mark Twain comes in. Twain famously quipped that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” If this bill is approved by the Senate and signed by President Trump (and he has hinted that he would sign it), history will both repeat itself and rhyme.

The 1986 bill created the Special Agricultural Worker amnesty, known by the acronym SAW. The idea behind SAW was to provide the powerful agricultural industry with a legal workforce. But since agricultural employers had no intention of paying their newly legalized workers competitive wages and providing decent working conditions, the workers promptly sought better pay and working conditions in other sectors of the economy. We know the rest. Since the government had no intention of enforcing laws against employing illegal aliens, agricultural employers just reverted to their old habit of hiring the next wave of illegal aliens.

H.R. 5038 creates a new category of Certified Agricultural Workers, known by the rhyming acronym, CAW. Once their period of indentured servitude (260 House members’ idea of modernization) is fulfilled, does anyone doubt that these CAW beneficiaries will follow the same path as their SAW predecessors?

It is in everyone’s interest that the American agricultural industry succeed. To ensure that we can not only feed ourselves, but export our surplus to the rest of the world, the industry (and apparently Congress, as well) will inevitably have to adapt to the 21st century. Congress should be incentivizing investment in efficient mechanization and other cutting edge technologies that will help us produce more food at lower costs. Instead, the Farm Workforce ‘Modernization’ Act does exactly the opposite.

Let’s hope there are at least 41 members of the Senate who have, shall we say, a more modern approach to modernization, and kill this bill before it reaches President Trump’s desk.

About Author


Ira joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1986 with experience as a journalist, professor of journalism, special assistant to Gov. Richard Lamm (Colorado), and press secretary of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. His columns have appeared in National Review, LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and more. He is an experienced TV and radio commentator.

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