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Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006--CONTINUED -- (Senate - May 24, 2006)

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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I once again stand in opposition to a Chambliss amendment, and I do so not with any great pride--frankly, with disappointment--because I went to the Senator to see if we could work out a few differences. But it was obvious that the Senator was intent on doing one thing, and that was to destroy the transitional tool that creates stability in the American agricultural workforce that is within this bill. That tool is right here. That tool is called the blue card.

We attempt to recognize those in this country who are illegal, who are working in American agriculture, who have been here for 3 years and say: Come forward, and we will allow you then to work in a temporary status with a blue card--no, I am sorry, you do have to take a background check, and if you are a felon, you are out, and if you have three misdemeanors, you are out, and, oh, by the way, now that we just passed Byrd-Gregg, you have to now pay a fine to enter to get the blue card, not of $100, but $600. It is important we do the math on this bill and we get it right.

Once you have qualified for the 150 hours to get a permanent work status, then you pay another fine, not $400, but $900. That is what the new math is as a result of the votes of just a few moments ago.

So I am not so sure we are making it easy on anyone who toils in the hot sun of America's agricultural fields, who create the stability in the American agricultural workforce today. I don't think we are making it easy on anybody. But let's talk about the key to it, and I think the Senator from Georgia said it was the key, and that is the number of hours in the field.

When this negotiated package was put together, we used the Fair Labor Standards Act definition which said 1 hour of work in agriculture creates the day. But we also knew the facts and the reality. Nobody hires any one worker for 1 hour and then they walk off the field. You just don't do that.

The Senator just admitted that the average time in the field was 40 hours a week. Those are the facts, those are the realities of the American agricultural workforce. He requires in his amendment 8 hours a day, but here is what he didn't tell you. If you worked 7 1/2 hours a day, it doesn't count. It is not an aggregate, it is an 8-hour work day.

What about the tomato harvesters in California? They average 6.3 hours per work day, but it doesn't count. It is not an aggregate. It is 8 hours under the Chambliss amendment.

What about Lake County in California? They work 5 to 7 hours per day for orange pickers, not 8. Those are national statistical facts.

What about the Oregon strawberry pickers? They work 7.3 hours per day, not 8. So they could labor in the field 4, 5, 6, 7 1/2 hours a day, and as I read the Chambliss amendment, it doesn't count. They have to work 8 hours a day to begin to develop the standard established in this bill, and that is fundamentally wrong.

What about the peach harvesters in the State of Georgia? Those are H-2A qualified farmers. They, by their own admission--and I have their paperwork--do not work their pickers 7 hours a day.

I think we are being phenomenally fair, but it is important that we don't make this an easy test. These people did enter our country illegally, but they have been here, they have been working hard, they are the backbone of American agriculture, and we are saying: If you come forward and you are honest and you haven't broken the law and you pay a fine going in, you can begin to work, and over a period of 2 to 3 years, 150 hours, you can get permanent work status. Then you can work, you can go home, but you can work in other jobs, too, during the off season of agriculture, if you want. That is the reward of what we are offering. It is fundamentally important that we get this right.

I would like to agree with the Senator from Georgia on his English language requirement. The English language requirement that is in the bill that we just adopted, that was offered as an amendment and a qualifier for the bill, is not as tough as the provision the Senator from Georgia puts in his amendment.

I must say that when I read these facts that are in the amendment, I have to make the determination that this amendment is not to modify the bill; this amendment is to destroy the transitional tool that creates the stability in American agriculture.

We know that nearly 70 percent of American agriculture is premised on an illegal employment base. American agriculture knows it, and they want to fix it. They want to get it right.

The Senator from Georgia and I know that H-2A doesn't work. It identifies 40,000-plus; we have over a million in the workforce. We are not going to take them all, and we shouldn't, because we are saying those who have been here for 3 years and can prove it and meet all of these tests and continue to work in the fields are going to earn the right to stay and work, and that is the stabilizing factor in American agriculture.

Already, instability is showing up in the workforce of agriculture. Why? Because the borders are tightening, as they should be, and it is critically important that we assure and create the transitional tool. So the Senator comes with key plans, key ideas, key amendments. I agreed with his fines, but now we have fines already built in the bill that are equal to his because of the Byrd-Gregg amendment. So that shouldn't be a factor of determination anymore.

I dramatically believe the workday is misrepresented. Let me tell you why. I have an interesting work form here from the Tifton Peach Farmers of Springfield, SC. They by their own admission don't work 8 hours a day; they work 7. No qualification for the hard-working person in the field picking the peaches. That is just fundamentally unfair. Are they illegal? Yes. Did they break the law? Yes. We know that. Yes. Are we forgiving? Well, we fined them. We make them continue to work to qualify, and anybody who has been out there in that farm field knows it is awfully hard work and it is hot and it is dirty. I grew up bucking bails of hay in a farm field. I know a bit of what it is like. And if we are going to require 150 days of work to get through this status into a permanent work status and have the ability to come and go as a legal worker, then we ought to have a well-defined program. Transition is what is important. Cut it off now and create instability.

In the Imperial Valley of California and in Yuma, AZ, we harvest nearly 10,000 crates of green vegetables a day. This past year, we did 2,800 a day. Why? No workers. At some point, if we don't get this right, we will tip American agriculture on its head, and then who pays the price? Who pays the price? The consumer ultimately pays the price, and the green vegetable industry goes south of the border where the workers are available.

That is why, when we sat down to look at American agriculture 5 years ago, we knew we had to have a transitional tool. We knew we had to assure the stability of the existing workforce while we secured the border and while we made sure we got the hard-working illegal ones who hadn't broken laws right, and those who had broken laws, they leave the country. If you came in yesterday or if you came in last June or if you came in the year before, you don't qualify for this. You had to have been here several years already--3 years. You have to prove that. You have to go through a background check. All of that is part of what we do.

Is it different from the other H-plus programs? Yes, it is, a little bit, because agriculture is different. It is the threshold work that the Senator from Georgia talks about. It is where the foreign immigrant enters the country to work. They gain their experience there, oftentimes before they move on or if they were to qualify for other programs that are within this bill.

My effort is to secure and to stabilize. It is not to throw out the blue card. It is my opinion that the Chambliss amendment guts the agricultural provision by destroying the transitional tool we call the blue card, and I believe that is fundamentally important to creating stability to America's agricultural workforce.

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