Most representatives of agricultural employers and farmworkers agree that immigration reform is desperately needed so that the hard-working, experienced agricultural workers who lack authorized immigration status have an opportunity to earn immigration status and a path to citizenship.
However, the article, “We’d better have a good door: Colorado farmers depend on immigrants to feed the country,” should not have accepted the one-sided viewpoint of some farmers about the H-2A agricultural guest-worker program. The reality is that the program is not all that difficult to use. It’s been around in one form or another for decades. It has certain wage and labor protections to prevent displacement of U.S. workers or undermining of their wages and minimize exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers. There is no limit to the number of H-2A visas each year, and the U.S. Department of Labor approves almost all employers’ applications.
The H-2A program protections should not be weakened and should be enforced more effectively. More importantly, undocumented farmworkers and their family members should be given a chance to obtain a green card and continue their work to feed our nation.
Bruce Goldstein, president, Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization for farmworkers
“A Framework for Managing Immigration,” by Eduardo Porter (Economic Scene column, Oct. 26), supports a proposal for a United States-Mexico temporary foreign worker program made by the Center for Global Development.
In discussing the Bracero guest worker program, the column notes the serious labor abuses that are inherent in guest worker programs but suggests that there can be solutions to prevent labor abuses in a future program. The experience with guest worker programs in the last century justifies skepticism about this claim.
An even greater concern, not discussed in the column, is the threat to our country’s democratic values posed by guest worker programs.
If this country truly needs to draw from other countries to find additional workers, such workers should be given the opportunity to become immigrants with a path to citizenship. They should not be deprived of the opportunity to earn the right to vote and participate in the civic life of this country.
Our democracy is undermined by relegating people to a temporary status and denying them the opportunity for immigration status and citizenship.
Bruce Goldstein, President Farmworker Justice
The article “Ag issues crop up in Gardner’s tour” quotes a farm operator who suggests that problems in the H-2A agricultural guest worker program should be solved by turning the program over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA has no infrastructure, expertise, or history administering guest worker programs, in agriculture or in any other sector.
The U.S. Department of Labor has the longstanding responsibility for several guest worker programs. Taxpayer money would be wasted in such a restructuring.
Although H-2A program delays are being addressed, we agree that there should be more resources to administer the program and enforce the modest labor protections for U.S. and foreign farmworkers. The fees charged to employers for this program’s services are woefully low, inadequate to the task, and should be raised. The more important solution is for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes an opportunity for immigration status and a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers, who make up the majority of the agricultural workforce.
Washington, District of Columbia
Presidential Transition Appointments
General John Kelly has been nominated by President-Elect Trump to be the Secretary of Homeland Security, a position that could have a far-reaching impact on the nation’s immigration policy. Kelly, who retired from the military earlier this year, led the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in much of Central and South America. Though he worked extensively on cross-border issues in this role, much is still unknown about his views on specific immigration policies and how his military experience will translate to leadership in a civilian agency. Whomever Kelly eventually chooses to direct the different sub-agencies within DHS will likely play a key role in shaping the agency’s immigration policies and enforcement actions.
President-Elect Trump has named fast-food executive Andy Puzder as his nominee for Labor Secretary. Puzder favors repealing workplace regulations and has a record of pro-business and anti-worker values. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food franchises, which are currently the subjects of various ongoing DOL investigations. Puzder has also been a vocal opponent of raising the minimum wage and providing overtime pay, and has advocated automation as a way of avoiding financial and legal obligations to workers. He has also expressed support for guestworker programs, appearing to prefer temporary work visas over the opportunity for workers to obtain immigration status. FJ is currently collaborating with other organizations across the country to call for a thorough investigation of Puzder’s past labor practices and possible conflicts of interests. We are committed to ensuring that the position of Labor Secretary is held by someone whose first priority is protecting the rights of workers.
Labor Transition Team
Another controversial member of President-Elect Trump’s DOL transition team is Veronica Birkenstock, the president of a recruiting agency that specializes in connecting employers with temporary guestworkers from Mexico and other countries. Guestworker programs are rife with abuse of both U.S. workers and foreign workers on temporary work visas. Though Ms. Birkenstock’s firm specializes in the use of H-2B visas, the use of recruiting agencies has proved problematic in the H-2A context as well.
H-2A Visa Use May Increase amidst Immigration Uncertainty
Many employers are concerned that a crackdown on illegal immigration by the Trump administration could affect their ability to retain their workforces. Farmers have been increasingly turning to the H-2A guest worker program for their temporary labor needs, with the number of applications for H-2A workers growing substantially during the last decade. In the South, for example, demand for farm labor continues to grow, with a majority of these workers entering through the H-2A program. In Florida, approximately half of the state’s strawberries are harvested by H-2A workers, while Pennsylvania fruit growers are increasingly turning to the H-2A program as well. This trend of increasing use of the H-2A program will likely continue amidst the current uncertainty about Trump’s immigration policies.
If use of the program does increase, there will be enhanced pressure on the already limited resources available for investigation and enforcement by government agencies. Unlike the H-2B program, the H-2A program does not have a cap on the number of visas that can be issued per year, which means there are no limits to the program’s potential increase.
Employers will also likely continue to advocate for a scaling back of the requirements and protections present in the program. A recent Civil Eats article quoted FJ President Bruce Goldstein on his concern that a Trump administration could change the current guest worker program in a way that erodes worker rights. Specifically, he stated that the Trump Department of Labor adopt policies “slashing wage rates and reducing government oversight.” FJ will continue to ensure that any discussion of guest worker programs includes farmworker voices and will oppose anti-worker changes.
What Will Happen to “Dreamers” Deferred?
On the campaign trail, President-Elect Trump pledged to revoke President Obama’s 2012 deferred action directive, DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children the opportunity to study and work legally in the country. There are currently more than 740,000 “Dreamers”, with about 7,000 additional applications for the program each month. Since his election, Trump has been facing mounting pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to keep the program in place. There are also concerns that if the program is ended, the personal information submitted by Dreamers may be used to initiate deportation proceedings against them. There is widespread fear in immigrant communities about the threat of deportations.
However, in a sign that he may be re-considering his pledge, Trump recently told a Time magazine interviewer that he’s “going to work something out” for Dreamers. He added: “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here; they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
We remain optimistic that President-Elect Trump will consider the devastating effects that revoking this program will have on both immigrant communities and the broader communities in which these young people live and work. The bi-partisan efforts underway to protect the program are a testament to its significance.
On November 20th, 2014 President Obama announced his plans for executive action on immigration. We applaud the President’s action, which includes a deferred action program that provides relief from deportation and work authorization for millions of undocumented individuals, including hundreds of thousands of farmworkers and their family members.
Immigration is a critically important issue for farmworkers. Learn about current legislation proposals impacting farmworkers.
Learn about the history of guestworker programs, H-2A program for temporary agricultural work, and the H-2B visa program.