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Public Statements

Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2005 - Part II

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2005 -- (Senate - April 18, 2005)

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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, our Federal Government has got to do better, faster, in improving our border security and meeting the growing problem of illegal immigration.

That is why Congress has been beefing up the border patrol and buying high-tech verification systems for the Department of Homeland Security.

That is why, whether you agree on the specific methods or not, the House of Representatives attached national drivers' license standards and asylum changes, in the so-called REAL ID provisions, to the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill.

That is why I have supported Senator Byrd on an amendment to this bill to increase border security, hire more investigators and enforcement agents, and boost resources for detention.

That is why I am cosponsoring a bill to help States deal with undocumented criminal aliens.

And that is why I have worked to bring the AgJOBS--bill the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act--to the Senate floor.

I truly wish we did not have to have this debate on this bill on the Senate floor.

However, the House of Representatives has forced this opportunity upon us. By putting border, identification, and asylum provisions in the supplemental, the House has turned this bill into an immigration bill.

I am committed to making this debate as brief as possible, and as full and fair as necessary. As far as I am concerned, a thorough debate on AgJOBS does not need to take more than a couple hours, if we can get agreement from Senators who oppose the amendment.

The Senate has enough time for this amendment. If anyone is going to unduly delay this bill, it is not this Senator. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and on this floor, I fully support prompt appropriations for our men and women in uniform and for operations necessary in the war on terrorism.

AgJOBS is only an installment toward an overall solution to our nation's growing problem of illegal immigration. However, it is a significant installment, a logical installment, and one that is fully matured and ready to go forward.

I have worked with my colleagues and numerous communities of interest on AgJOBS issues for several years. The amendment I bring forward this week has been, in all its major essentials, well-known and much discussed in the Senate and the House for more than a year and a half.

This bipartisan effort builds upon years of discussion and suggestions among growers, farm worker advocates, Latino and immigration issue advocates, Members of both parties in both Houses of Congress, and others.

We have now built the largest bipartisan coalition ever for a single immigration bill. This letter was just delivered this week to Senate offices. There are about 100 more signatures on this letter than a similar letter delivered a year ago. Support for AgJOBS is growing.

That support reflects the fact that, in agriculture as in other sectors, the current immigration and labor market system is profoundly broken.

An enforcement-only policy is not the answer and doesn't work.

The United States has 7,458 miles of land borders and 88,600 miles of tidal shoreline. We can secure those frontiers well but not perfectly. As we have stepped up border enforcement, we have locked undocumented immigrants in this country at least as effectively as we have locked any out.

With an estimated 10 million undocumented persons in the United States, to find them and flush them out of homes, schools, churches, and work places would mean an intrusion on the civil liberties of Americans that they will not tolerate. We fought our revolution, in part, over troops at our doors and in our homes.

History has shown us what does work: A coupling of more secure borders, better internal enforcement, and a guest worker program that faces up to economic reality.

The only experience our country has had with a legal farm guest worker program--used widely in the 1950s but repealed in the 1960s--taught us conclusive lessons. While it was criticized on other grounds, that program dramatically reduced illegal immigration from high levels to almost nothing, while meeting labor market needs.

AgJOBS is a groundbreaking, necessary part of this balanced, realistic approach. American agriculture has boldly stepped forward and admitted the problem. AgJOBS is a critical part of the solution.

Agriculture is the sector of the economy for which the problem is the worst. Fifty to 75 percent of farm workers are undocumented. As internal enforcement has stepped up, family farms are going out of business because they cannot find legal workers.

This mighty machine we call American agriculture is on a dangerous precipice--perhaps the most dangerous in our history. This year, for the first time since records have been kept, the United States is on the verge of becoming a net importer of agricultural products.

To keep American-grown food on our families' tables, we need a stable, legal, labor supply. To keep suppliers, processors, and other rural jobs alive, American agriculture needs a stable, legal, labor supply. It has been said, foreign workers are going to harvest our food; the only question is whether they do it here or in another country.

Whatever the case is in other industries, in agriculture, we really are talking about jobs that Americans can't or won't take. This physically demanding labor is seasonal and migrant in nature. Few Americans can or will leave home and family behind, to travel from State to State, crop to crop, for only part of the year, living in temporary structures. The planting, growing, and harvesting seasons occur at different times in different States--usually when students are not available.

AgJOBS is also part of a humane solution. Legal workers can demand a living wage and assert legal rights that undocumented workers--smuggled into the country and kept ``underground''--cannot. Every year, more than 300 persons die in the desert, the boxcar, or the back of a truck trailer. For a civilized, humane country, that is intolerable.

For the long term, AgJOBS reforms and streamlines the profoundly broken H-2A program that is supposed to provide legal, farm guest workers. It is now so bureaucratic and burdensome, it admits only about 40,000 workers a year--2 to 3 percent of farm workers.

However, we cannot expand the H-2A program overnight. A system of consulate system, a Homeland Security bureaucracy, and a Department of Labor bureaucracy that, today, chokes on processing 40,000 workers a year will need several years to ramp up to several times that amount. Growers, almost all of which do not use H-2A today, will need time to get into the system. Also, growers will need time to build housing and prepare for the other labor standards that H-2A has always required to prevent foreign workers from taking jobs from Americans.

As a bridge to stabilize the workforce while H-2A reforms are being implemented, AgJOBS includes a one-time-only earned adjustment program, to let about 500,000 trusted farm workers, with a proven, substantial work history here, continue working here, legally. The permanent H-2A reforms would make future farm worker adjustments unnecessary.

AgJOBS is not amnesty or a reward for illegal behavior.

Requiring several years of demanding, physical labor in the fields is an opportunity to rehabilitate to legal status--to earn the adjustment to legal status.

Adjusting AgJOBS workers would have to meet a higher standard of good behavior than other, legal immigrants, in the future. Once a worker is in the adjustment program, he or she has to obey all the laws that other, legal immigrants have to. In addition, an adjusting worker would be deported for conviction of one felony; or three misdemeanors, however minor; or, in the amendment before, a single serious misdemeanor, defined as an offense that results in 6 months of jail time.

Part of earning adjustment involves the immigrant surrendering to some limits on his or her legal rights--including a substantial prospective work requirement in agriculture and meeting a higher legal standard of good behavior than other, legal immigrants.

The adjusting worker can apply for permanent residence--a green card--at the end of the adjustment process. As a practical matter, obtaining a green card would take about 6 to 9 years after the worker enters the adjustment process. For the work involved, the economic contributions made, and the diligence required over a long period of time, this is fair. Sharing the American dream with persons who want to be--and will be--law-abiding members of the community, is fair.

AgJOBS workers, both adjusting and H-2A, would be free to leave the country at the end of the work season and not be ``locked in'' the country, between jobs.

Finally, AgJOBS is good for our homeland security.

With background checks, AgJOBS would let American families know who is putting the food on our tables. That means ensuring a safe and stable food supply for American families.

When we stop sending investigators and enforcement agents into the potato fields and apple orchards, we will be able to devote critical resources where they belong--hunting down real criminals and stopping terrorists.

AgJOBS is a win-win-win, for growers, workers, taxpayers, and homeland security. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

I also ask unanimous consent to have printed in the RECORD several documents setting out facts about AgJOBS, the need for AgJOBS, frequently asked questions, and letters of endorsement from the New England Apple Council, Americans for Tax Reform, and from former U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Agriculture, Clayton Yeutter.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Facts About AgJOBS

THE AGRICULTURAL JOB OPPORTUNITY, BENEFITS, AND SECURITY ACT OF 2005--S. 359/H.R. 884

The Problem: Some 50 to 75 percent of America's farm work force is undocumented. As border and internal enforcement improves, work force disruptions are increasing and some operations are simply shutting down because growers cannot find a reliable, legal labor supply. This comes at a time when American agriculture is in perhaps its most precarious condition in our history, and we are on the verge of importing more food than we grow, for the first time since records have been kept.

Long-Term Solution: A permanently reformed H-2A program would be streamlined, easier to use, and more economical, providing a legal work force for farm jobs Americans won't take. Legal guest workers would go back to their home countries when the work season is over. The current H-2A system is profoundly broken and supplies only 2 to 3 percent of farm workers (30,000 to 40,000 a year out of a work force of 1.6 million).

Short-Term ``Bridge'': A one-time-only earned adjustment program would allow growers to retain trusted, tax-paying employees with a proven work history, to stabilize the ag work force as the industry (and the government bureaucracy) transitions to greater use of a reformed H-2A program. Based on DOL statistics, about 500,000 workers would be eligible to apply.

Rehabilitation, not ``amnesty'': A significant prospective work requirement (at least 360 days over 3 to 6 years, including at least 240 days in the first 3 years) in agriculture--among the most physically demanding work in the country--means adjusting workers could earn the right to stay and work toward legal status. Adjusting workers would have to meet a higher standard of good behavior than other, legal immigrants, being subject to deportation for any 3 misdemeanors, regardless how minor.

Good for homeland security: Hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers would be brought out of the shadows and given background checks. DHS could re-focus more resources on fighting more dangerous threats.

Good for American consumers: American families would be more certain of a safe, stable, food supply grown in America, and we would know who is growing our food.

Not a ``magnet'' for new illegal immigration: Only workers with a substantial, proven work history (at least 100 days) in agriculture in the USA before January 1, 2005, would be eligible to apply for the earned adjustment program.

Not ``taking jobs away'' from American workers: H-2A labor standards (including wages, housing, and transportation) ensure that American workers are not ``underbid'' for H-2A jobs. Whatever arguments some may make about other industries, most of the work in labor-intensive agriculture is seasonal and migrant in nature. Most American workers cannot and will not leave their families and homes behind, to move from farm to farm, living in temporary quarters, following temporary work.

Humane, good for workers: It is intolerable that, every year, hundreds of workers die packed in boxcars or truck trailers or crossing the desert. Many thousands are preyed upon by human smugglers. Stepped-up border enforcement has locked in as many as it has locked out, as returning home at the end of the work season becomes as treacherous and deadly as entering the country. Workers with legal status can assert legal rights against exploitation and safely leave the country when the work is done.

The Need for AgJOBS Legislation--Now

Americans need and expect a stable predictable, legal work force in American agriculture. Willing American workers deserve a system that puts them first in line for available jobs with fair, market wages. All workers deserve decent treatment and protection of basic rights under the law. Consumers deserve a safe, stable, domestic food supply. American citizens and taxpayers deserve secure borders, a safe homeland, and a government that works. Yet we are being threatened on all these fronts, because of a growing shortage of legal workers in agriculture.

To address these challenges, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, including Senators Larry Craig (ID) and Ted Kennedy (MA) and Representative Chris Cannon (UT) and Howard Berman (CA), is introducing the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) Act of 2005. This bipartisan effort builds upon years of discussion and suggestions among growers, farm worker advocates, Latino and immigration issue advocates, Members of both parties in both Houses of Congress, and others. In all substantive essentials, this bill is the same as S. 1645/H.R. 3142 in the 108th Congress.

THE PROBLEMS

Of the USA's 1.6 million agricultural work force, more than half is made up of workers not legally authorized to work here--according to a conservative estimate by the Department of Labor, based, astoundingly, on self-disclosure in worker surveys. Reasonable private sector estimates run to 75 percent or more.

With stepped up documentation enforcement by the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the successor to the old INS), persons working here without legal documentation are not leaving the country, but just being scattered. The work force is being constantly and increasingly disrupted. Ag employers want a legal work force and must have a stable work force to survive--but federal law actually punishes ``too much diligence'' in checking worker documentation. Some growers already have gone out of business, lacking workers to work their crops at critical times.

Undocumented workers are among the most vulnerable persons in our country, and know they must live in hiding, not attract attention at work, and move furtively. They cannot claim the most basic legal rights and protections. They are vulnerable to predation and exploitation. Many have paid ``coyotes''--labor smugglers--thousands of dollars to be transported into and around this country, often under inhumane and perilous conditions. Reports continue to mount of horrible deaths suffered by workers smuggled in enclosed truck trailers.

Meanwhile, the only program currently in place to respond to such needs, the H-2A legal guest worker program, is profoundly broken. The H-2A status quo is slow, bureaucratic, and inflexible. The program is complicated and legalistic. DOL's compliance manual alone is over 300 pages. The current H-2A process is so expensive and hard to use, it places only about 30,000-50,000 legal guest workers a year--2 percent to 3 percent of the total ag work force. A General Accounting Office study found DOL missing statutory deadlines for processing employer applications to participate in H-2A more than 40% percent of the time. Worker advocates have expressed concerns that enforcement is inadequate.

THE SOLUTION--AGJOBS REFORMS

AgJOBS legislation provides a two-step approach to a stable, legal, safe, ag work force: (1) Streamlining and expanding the H-2A legal, temporary, guest worker program, and making it more affordable and used more--the long-term solution, which will take time to implement; (2) Outside the H-2A program, a one-time adjustment to legal status for experienced farm workers already working here, who currently lack legal documentation--the bridge to allow American agriculture to adjust to a changing economy.

H-2A Reforms: Currently, when enough domestic farm workers are not available for upcoming work, growers are required to go through a lengthy, complicated, expensive, and uncertain process of demonstrating that fact to the satisfaction of the federal government. They are then allowed to arrange for the hiring of legal, temporary, nonimmigrant guest workers. These guest workers are registered with the U.S. Government to work with specific employers and return to their home countries when the work is done. Needed reforms would:

Replace the current quagmire for qualifying employers and prospective workers with a streamlined ``attestation'' process like the one now used for H-1B high-tech workers, speeding up certification of H-2A employers and the hiring of legal guest workers.

Participating employers would continue to provide for the housing and transportation needs of H-2A workers. New adjustments to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate would be suspended during a 3-year period pending extensive study of its impact and alternatives. Other current H-2A labor protections for both H-2A and domestic workers would be continued. H-2A workers would have new rights to seek redress through mediation and federal court enforcement of specific rights. Growers would be protected from frivolous claims, exorbitant damages, and duplicative contract claims in state courts.

The only experience our country has had with a broadly-used farm guest worker program (used widely in the 1950s but repealed in the 1960s) demonstrated conclusive, and instructive, results. While it was criticized on other grounds, it dramatically reduced illegal immigration while meeting labor market needs.

Adjustment of workers to legal status

To provide a ``bridge'' to stabilize the ag work force while H-2A reforms are being implemented, AgJOBS would create a new earned adjustment program, in which farm workers already here, but working without legal authorization, could earn adjustment to legal status. To qualify, an incumbent worker must have worked in the United States in agriculture, before January 1, 2005, for at least 100 days in a 12-month period over the last 18 months prior to the bill's introduction. (The average migrant farm worker works 120 days a year.)

This would not spur new immigration, because adjustment would be limited to incumbent, trusted farm workers with a significant work history in U.S. agriculture. The adjusting worker would have non-immigrant, but legal, status. Adjustment would not be complete until a worker completes a substantial work requirement in agriculture (at least 360 days over the next 3-6 years, including 240 days in the first 3 years).

Approximately 500,000 workers would be eligible to apply (based on current workforce estimates). Their spouses and minor children would be given limited rights to stay in the U.S., protected from deportation. The worker would have to verify compliance with the law and continue to report his or her work history to the government. Upon completion of adjustment, the worker would be eligible for legal permanent resident status. Considering the time elapsed from when a worker first applies to enter the adjustment process, this gives adjusting workers no advantage over regular immigrants beginning the legal immigration process at the same time.

AgJOBS would not create an amnestv program. Neither would it require anything unduly onerous of workers. Eligible workers who are already in the United States could continue to work in agriculture, but now could do so legally, and prospectively earn adjustment to legal status. Adjusting workers may also work in another industry, as long as the agriculture work requirement is satisfied.

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