House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on the Agricultural Guestworker Act
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing on the “Agricultural Guestworker Act,” H.R.1773, a bill introduced by Judiciary Committee Chair, Robert Goodlatte (R-VA). The witnesses at the hearing were Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers; Lee Wicker, Deputy Director, North Carolina Growers Association and Treasurer of USA Farmers; Christopher Gaddis, Senior Vice President for Human Resources, JBS USA, a member of the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition; John B. Graham, III, President, Graham and Rollins, Inc.
In his introduction, Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) stated that because the H-2A program is so onerous, employers use undocumented workers. He believes that H.R.1773 would meet the needs of growers. Rep. Goodlatte described H.R.1773 as providing streamlined access to labor. He said that the bill is, at its core, a guestworker program with no special pathway to citizenship for workers.
Ranking Subcommittee Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) spoke about the importance of the compromise agreement reached between growers and the United Farm Workers that is encompassed in the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744. She questioned the need to create another proposal. She entered into the record a letter from the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, a group of 71 growers’ associations, which stated their support for the agricultural compromise provisions in the Senate bill. Lofgren stated that Goodlatte’s bill lacks an earned legalization program for the estimated 1.1 million undocumented farmworkers and that his bill’s plan for workers to come out of the shadows and register as temporary guestworkers will not work. She argued that people will not come forward, especially since there is not plan for their family members.
Lofgren also asserted that the bill would lower wages and provide fewer worker protections than the compromise encompassed in the Senate bill. Later, she pointed out that the bill’s limit of 500,000 guestworker visas won’t cover the current undocumented farm labor force and certainly won’t be enough visas for his proposal to expand to other industries such as meat and seafood processing. Rep. Holding (R-NC) also said that the cap is not high enough to serve all of the agricultural and food processing labor force. The compromise provisions under the future nonimmigrant worker program in S.744 contain a lower cap (112,333 visas per year to a maximum of 337,000 visas during the first 5 years) because the current undocumented workforce will have earned legal immigration status through the blue card program.
The three employer representatives expressed support for the Goodlatte bill, with Wicker and Graham noting their approval that the H-2C program has fewer rules protecting workers than the current guestworker programs. When asked about litigation reform in the bill, Wicker said that North Carolina Growers Association’s collective bargaining agreement with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO contains a grievance procedure that works quite well.
Arturo Rodriguez said that he appreciates the Chairman’s desire to fix the system but noted the bill’s resemblance to the horrific Bracero Program, stating that it would deprive U.S. farmworkers of jobs by minimizing the recruitment obligations of employers, slashing wages and withholding 10 percent of a worker’s wages. He said that agriculture should not rely on undocumented workers or guestworkers. He asked that the Committee support the Senate compromise and honor the men and women who harvest our food.
Representatives Garcia (D-FL), Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jackson Lee (D-TX) spoke about the difficult work of farmworkers and the importance of their contributions to our nation. Rep. Gutierrez said that when the high tech industries come to speak to Congress, they ask for tens of thousands of greencards for their workers. Gutierrez told the agricultural employers to “fight for your own people.”
Rep. Garcia asked Mr. Wicker, whose organization signed onto the Senate agreement between farmworkers and growers, whether he thought that the agreement was made just for the Senate or for the House as well. He followed up by asking whether Wicker supports the agricultural provisions in the Senate bill. Wicker responded that he does but he doesn’t think that it will pass the House. Garcia told him to leave the politics to the Members of Congress.
Rep. Jackson Lee concluded the questioning of the witnesses by asking the employers whether they would mind adding worker protections suggested by Mr. Rodriguez to the bill. Graham said that he would be fine with that. Gaddis said that meat processing isn’t the same as the other industries, because they offer higher wages, and therefore more upward mobility for workers. He added that he would like the workers to be able to stay longer and bring their families with them. Wicker responded, “Let’s get together and talk about it.”
Farmworker Justice opposes the Agricultural Guestworker Act. Our fact sheet on H.R.1773 is available here. We support a comprehensive immigration solution that includes a roadmap to citizenship for our nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants that includes farmworkers and their families.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Mark-up of S.744
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued to debate and vote on amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744. The Committee finished consideration of Title IV, which contains the non-agricultural temporary nonimmigrant visa programs, including the new W-1/2 visas negotiated by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. Then the Committee considered amendments to E-verify in Title III of the bill. While some amendments have been approved, generally the supporters of the compromise reached by the “Gang of Eight” have defeated amendments that would substantially change the compromise.
The agricultural provisions of the bill are in Title II, which has yet to be considered. The committee will resume the mark-up on Monday. Chairman Leahy has promised to finish marking up the bill by the end of next week before the Senate’s week-long recess.
The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor for debate, amendments and a vote sometime in June. Up-to-date information on amendments is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.