Ag Amnesty Again Passes House
By Joe Guzzardi
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (HR 5038), a massive amnesty that the bill’s title tries to disguise. The final vote, mostly along party lines, was 260-165.
By giving the legislation a sympathetic but totally misleading name, its Open Borders signatories hope that the public will get behind it, and encourage the Senate to pass it. The House dares not identify HR 5038 as what it is: an amnesty that includes lifetime valid work permits, Green Cards and a path to citizenship for up to 1.5 million illegal aliens who have been employed – or claim they’ve been employed – in ag at least part-time during the last two years. Amnesty would also be granted to their family members.
Illegal alien ag workers who spent as little as weekends-only on the job would qualify. But a big caveat, the Green Cards won’t come until the workers have been subjected to a minimum of four years of slave-like labor. Growers know that once their laborers have Green Cards in hand, the workers will leave their indentured servitude positions to head off for better jobs in construction, manufacturing or retail. History confirms this pattern. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to about 1.1 million so-called Special Agricultural Workers, or SAWS, plus their spouses and minor children. But once the government issued the Green Cards, the ag workers quickly found more lucrative employment.
HR 5038 extends its damage beyond the ag industry. The bill’s sponsors kept the numerically unlimited H-2A category for seasonal work. But, HR 5038 expanded the H-2A guest worker program to include dairy, meat and fish processing, and canning employment, and would also set aside 20,000 H-2A visas each year that could be used for year-round agricultural jobs traditionally held by American workers.
The bill would also create 40,000 additional Green Cards each year for longtime H-2A workers and other low-skilled foreign workers. If HR 5038 becomes law, it would virtually ensure that Americans employed or seeking employment in several industries would be shut out or possibly lose the jobs they already hold. Passed without debate, the legislators didn’t acknowledge the inconvenient truth that legal immigrants or U.S. citizens hold about 50 percent of agriculture or agriculturally related positions.
HR 5038 offers not a modicum of modernization. The House bill, bowing to the powerful ag lobby made up of mostly former federal employees, spends more than $100 million annually to guarantee that growers will have continued access to unproductive, low-wage immigrant labor. True modernization means mechanization. Unlike humans, robots can operate 24/7 and have been successfully put to use worldwide. Machines manufactured in Australia, Holland and Japan harvest radishes, brussels sprouts, kale and other crops at, compared to manual picking, lightening-like speed.
Once employers become foreign worker-dependent, they stop looking for practical alternatives like mechanization. Employers count on immigrant workers’ continuous presence in their future plans instead of taking full advantage of the no-cap H-2A visa. At the same time, foreign workers come to depend on their meager earnings to support their families, thereby vastly increasing the likelihood that the “guests” will become permanent fixtures. As the old and often-repeated immigration bromide goes, nothing is more permanent than a guest worker.
Congress has introduced an ag amnesty bill every year for more than a decade. Anti-American worker Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who during her 25-year congressional career has an unbroken record of endorsing more worker visas, is the original sponsor of HR 5038. But if Congress really wanted to help farm workers instead of their hooked-on-cheap-labor employers, it would slow, instead of promote, more guest programs that will eventually include amnesty.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.