Ag industry captains have friends in high places—the United States Congress

Published on February 28th, 2013

As if immigration reform patriots don’t have enough to worry about, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s office is sending troubling signals. 

Goodlatte has long been an enforcement champion and vigorous DREAM Act opponent. When Goodlatte took over for outgoing Lamar Smith, hopes were high that the transition from one strong anti-amnesty leader to another would be seamless. 

But Goodlatte’s recent statements have raised eyebrows. On February 26, the Judiciary Committee held an Immigration and Border Security subcommittee hearing titled “From H-2A to a Workable Agricultural Guest Worker Program.” In his opening remarks, Goodlatte called the H-2A, which allows growers to import as many foreign-born workers as they need once they comply with some basic administrative requirements, “outdated and onerous.”  Funny—even though “outdated and onerous” is how I describe filing my income tax return every year, I do it to comply with the law.  

But the agriculture industry wants special treatment. Growers, dairy farmers and horse breeders among others whine about the relatively simple process of first advertising for American workers, and then if none are available, filing an application with the Department of Labor which Customs and Immigration Services must ultimately approve.

Nevertheless, industry captains will scream and howl until they get their way which is, as always, more guest worker visas. The inconvenience of advance planning and bureaucratic government paper work fall into the category generally referred to as the cost of doing business.  But growers prefer to skip the requirements, break the law and hire aliens.

Sadly, the hearing featured four growers (see their names here), all of whom predictably advocated fiercely for an expanded guest agricultural worker program. Missing from the panel, however, was any voice for mechanization and/or paying higher wages like, for example, University of California, Davis Professor Phillip Martin’s.

Despite amnesty advocates' outcry that unless the government approves more guest worker visas, produce prices would skyrocket, Professor Martin calculates the net cost increase would reach no more than 10 percent—maybe.  Read Professor Martin’s outstanding New York Times story here that explains his logic. 

Before acting on guest workers, Congress must take a complete overview of the likely long term consequences. Most workers would become permanent residents either though legislation or by virtue of their decision to overstay their visas and remain in the United States.  As a result, taxpayers will subsidize the costs associated with a larger population of low income workers—mainly education and health care.

If nothing else, eliminating anchor baby citizenship must be debated as part of any meaningful guest worker hearings. With automatic birthright citizenship, children born to guest workers allow his parents to overstay their visas—they become the “anchors.” Once anchored, then the process of endlessly more family migration begins.

Guest worker programs are great for employers—cheap labor performed by submissive workers. And the programs are pretty good for the employees, too. Even though they’re likely to be underpaid and overworked, guest worker programs allow the migrants to come to the United States legally and, in all probability, to stay for the rest of their lives.

The inescapable conclusion however is that what’s good for the ag industry is bad for Americans.



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