“Right now they are leaving (the border) and going back to their $8 per-day jobs,” he said.
Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers, said he heard about a grower in Arizona that has been unable to bring in 200 guest workers, some of whom have been waiting in Tijuana more than a week.
“I don’t know that there is a real sense of urgency of how much this is impacting people,” Gasperini said.
Fazio said the U.S. government must resolve the long delays, which he said began to occur about July 7. Even if technical problems in the State Department’s computer system are solved, Fazio said there could be long delays at the border because of the backlog in processing guest workers.
As the U.S. deals with the much-publicized issue of thousands of undocumented children crossing the U.S. Mexican border, Fazio said the U.S. authorities must ensure legal agricultural guest workers can come to the U.S.
The U.S. also must address the guest worker program before it funds humanitarian relief efforts for border crossings. said Fazio.
“We are not going to have labor-intensive agriculture in this country unless we can get a usable guest worker program and this program is a long way from usable,” Fazio said.
Lee Wicker. deputy directory of the Vass, N.C.-based North Carolina Growers Association, said it is possible sweet potato growers in Mississippi or Louisiana will lack H-2A workers if delays continue. However, he said public and political pressure is building on the State Department.
“I expect them to get it fixed very quickly,” he said.
Growers rely heavily on the guest worker program and when it doesn’t deliver it can be devastating, he said.
“This problem with the State Department is a classic example of why growers in general have shunned the H-2A program,” he said.