House Subcommittee Advocates for Ag Guest Workers

Article publisher: 
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Article date: 
Monday, February 13, 2012
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held its third hearing on the agriculture industry’s complaints about existing immigration laws and its calls for more agricultural guest workers.

Committee leaders from both parties agreed with industry witnesses that the U.S. should import more agricultural guest workers. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Elton Gallegly (R-CA) stated there were not enough U.S. workers willing to do the job. "This is a critical issue to the U.S. agriculture [industry] because…[there are] simply not enough Americans willing to work as migrant farmworkers." (Bloomberg Government Hearing Transcript, Feb. 10, 2012) Agreeing with Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) called for an amnesty for illegal alien farmworkers already in the country. "[H]ow can anyone think that the answer to our labor needs is to deport over one million agricultural workers who are already here?" she exclaimed. (Id.)

Chair of the full Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), called for reforms to existing guest worker programs to allow farmers greater ease in hiring foreign seasonal laborers, and enumerated several points in legislation he proposed this fall. Rep. Smith’s bill, the "American Specialty Agriculture Act" (H.R. 2847), would establish a new H-2C guest worker program that would expand the scope of the program to include all agricultural work. (See FAIR Legislative Update for a summary, Sept. 12, 2011) Currently the H-2A agricultural guest worker program is limited to admitting seasonal farm workers.

Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, argued against the expansion of guest worker programs, stating that illegal alien farmworkers reduce wages and thus discourage Americans from performing agricultural labor. "The presence of undocumented workers depresses wages for all workers, including the roughly 700,000 U.S. citizens….Guest workers will toil to the limits of human endurance at low wages, when U.S. workers seek more sustainable productivity requirements," he testified. (Id.)

Proponents of guest worker programs continue to argue that there are no U.S. workers, or not enough of them, to meet the needs of the agriculture industry. But this argument, standing alone, overlooks the fact illegal labor inherently depresses wages, thus discouraging American workers from taking agriculture jobs. When it comes to raising wages, employers mistakenly argue that increasing wages to attract Americans would result in significantly higher food prices or a decline in U.S. food production. To the contrary, a report released by FAIR last year studying the impact of immigration on the agricultural industry found that employers would be only minimally impacted if they increased wages to attract a legal workforce. (See FAIR

Report: The Effect on the Agriculture Industry of Converting to a Legal Workforce, April 2011) The report found that increasing wages results in a legal and increasingly native-born workforce. Specifically, the study concluded that large corporations (those making over $250,000 annually) can increase employee wages by 30 percent without passing the cost onto consumers. This would allow companies to maintain a profit and attract more American workers.

--FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 13, 2012