Sound and fury: more debate over farm labor and immigrants

02/09/2012 05:30:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstThe House Judiciary Committee is "at it" again on immigration, E-verify and guest worker programs for agriculture.

The subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing today and heard testimony from several agriculture friendly witnesses. Find the link to the hearing here. As usual, there were words full of sound and fury, signifying nothing definitive so far.

Some quotes from the testimony: 

Gary Black, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Agriculture, talks about a possible way to use current undocumented immigrants in agriculture: 

In testimony before a Senate subcommittee last fall, I introduced a suggestion for a penalty-based work authorization permit. Following a limited signup period, those workers who come forward would be subjected to several stiff penalties: a $10,000 fine payable over five years and a mandatory purchase of a biometrically secure, "agriculture only" work permit at a cost of $500 annually.

In addition, he or she would face immediate deportation for violating the requirements of the permit. Permit holders should be required to forfeit prior social security withholdings. Future social security withholdings, both employer and employee contributions, should be dedicated to a required market-based health insurance product. A program of this nature should require fierce employer sanctions immediately following the end of the signup period. Our country needs a legally documented workforce and a reliable management system to ensure integrity.

Paul Wenger, president, California Farm Bureau Federation, speaks of the lack of a domestic workforce.

Experience also shows us there is no realistic prospect of a domestic work force for agriculture. We in California have learned the hard way that few Americans seek agricultural jobs. In the late 1990’s, facilitated by the leadership of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a multi-county welfare-to farm-work program was launched in the Central Valley. Regional unemployment rates ranged from nine to 12 percent; in some localities, unemployment exceeded 20%.

State and county agencies and grower associations collaborated to identify cropping patterns, labor needs, training, transportation, and other impediments. Out of over 100,000 prospective “welfare to work” placements, three individuals were successfully placed. In the aftermath of the program, several employment agencies indicated – in writing – that they would no longer seek to place the unemployed in seasonal agricultural work. Other examples of this “on-the-ground” truth include the UFW’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign, which placed a total of 9 people in agricultural jobs, few of whom lasted more than a few days.


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