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Hearing of the Immigration Policy and Enforcement Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - Regional Perspectives on Agricultural Guestworker Programs


Location: Washington, DC

The agriculture industry needs to hire hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers each year to help put food on Americans' tables. However, many workers with better options choose to work elsewhere.

That is why many illegal immigrant farmworkers who received amnesty in 1986 soon left the fields for other jobs in the city. As the president of the American Farm Bureau has stated, any new amnesty such as AgJobs would have the same result. Because of this, U.S. employers often face a shortage of available American workers to fill seasonal agricultural jobs.

There is no numerical limit to H-2A temporary agricultural work visas, yet half of farm workers remain illegal immigrants. Why don't more growers who have heavy demands for seasonal agricultural labor make use of the program? Well, in 2008, the Department of Labor concluded that the vast majority of growers "find the H-2A program so plagued with problems that they avoid using it altogether."

This Subcommittee held a hearing last year in which witnesses described what was wrong with the H-2A program. Growers believe that the Labor Department, which largely administers the H-2A program, is hostile to them and the program.

Growers are also troubled by the great cost of using the H-2A program, especially the "adverse effect wage rate." Growers have to build free housing for their guestworkers.

America needs an agricultural guestworker program that is fair to everyone it impacts -- American growers, farmworkers, consumers and guestworkers. The program must provide growers who want to do the right thing with a reliable source of legal labor. It must protect the livelihoods of American workers and the rights of guestworkers. And it must keep in mind the pocketbooks of American families.

I have introduced legislation, "the American Specialty Agriculture Act," that accomplishes these goals. It establishes an H-2C guestworker program responsive to the needs of American growers and maintains strong policies to protect citizens and legal workers. And it does so without the fraud-ridden mass amnesty for illegal immigrant farmworkers that failed in 1986.

Let me highlight some of the provisions of my bill. First, the bill puts the Agriculture Department in charge of the H-2C program.

Second, in order to minimize red tape, the bill streamlines the process for H-2C workers by making it "attestation"- based--just like the H-1B program for high-skilled workers.

Third, the bill requires growers to pay H-2C workers and American workers the prevailing wage, as required in other guestworker programs.

Fourth, the bill allows growers to provide a housing voucher instead of actual housing, which can prove extremely burdensome for growers who may need foreign workers for only a few weeks a year.

Fifth, the bill opens up the H-2C program to dairies and other agricultural producers that cannot use the H-2A program because they employ workers year-round.

Sixth, the bill allows growers to include binding arbitration in contracts with H-2C workers in order to forestall abusive and frivolous litigation.

I am also pleased that the report of Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Black finds that my bill "institutes an H-2C program that will be responsive to the needs of America's specialty growers."

And I look forward today to hearing perspectives from both coasts on how best to write and implement an agricultural guestworker program. We must put policies in place that help ensure American growers can keep growing our crops and our economy.

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