Farm Groups Pressure Senate for More Foreign Farmworkers

The Agricultural Workforce Coalition (AWC), a group of farming and agricultural organizations, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pressuring them to pass legislation addressing alien farmworkers. Most of the letter bemoans the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, and specifically asks the Senate to “pass legislation to fully address the needs of American farmers by stabilizing the current workforce, addressing enormous costs to use the H-2A program, and enabling year-round producers to access the H-2A program.”

The H-2A program is an uncapped guestworker program that allows farmers to hire seasonal guestworkers. Research using Department of Labor certification data shows that H-2A workers routinely earn less than national averages in their respective labor categories.

In other words, not only is the H-2A program uncapped, but it also brings in workers on the cheap.

That arrangement does not satisfy the member organizations, corporations, and businesses that comprise the AWC. Their chief concern is that the H-2A program is seasonal, rather than year-round. That is certainly a fair concern, but one that the government can address with tweaks to the existing H-2A program, rather than creating new categories or passing farmworker amnesty legislation.

Of course, the AWC does not see it that way. They want the Senate to take up consideration of H.R. 1603, the (ironically named) Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which the House of Representatives passed in March by a vote of 247-174. In the AWC letter’s press release, Western Growers’ president and CEO Dave Puglia remarked that:

The Senate can end the labor crisis on America’s farms. Our farmers cannot afford another year of inaction. The House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act earlier this year, carefully negotiated bipartisan legislation that would provide stability to the existing farm workforce and a greatly improved and predictable guest worker program.

FAIR opposed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in both the last and current Congress. H.R. 1603 creates a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal alien farmworkers, creates a new program giving “Certified Agricultural Worker” status to illegal aliens, and encourages further illegal immigration.

The bill would solidify an entire industry’s reliance on cheap foreign labor, and the requirement that farmworkers continue working in agriculture before qualifying for green cards essentially forces illegal aliens into indentured servitude. Nothing in the bill “modernizes” the agricultural workforce. Actual modernization would include labor-reducing automation and picking technology, which is already used throughout other sectors of agriculture and in countries across the world.

The AWC effort is simply an attempt to pressure the Senate into passing this farmworker amnesty bill. The H-2A program is not perfect, but it works and thousands of farmers across the country use it to fill their workforce needs. The Senate should refuse to take up this sweeping amnesty legislation and instead address narrowly-tailored fixes to the H-2A program as it currently exists.

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