House Judiciary Hearing on Agricultural Labor

On 2/26/13 at 2:00pm Eastern the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Agricultural Labor: From H-2A to a Workable Agricultural Guestworker Program.”

Excerpts from the hearing

Representative Goodlatte
If we're going to do CIR, we need to have a component that will work for this industry here. Designing something for agriculture is critical for designing something that works for everyone.

Giev Kashkooli
The people who are harvesting our food everyday- it's a euphemism to call them guestworkers. They are the new Americans…

Representative Lofgren
Q: You're not objecting to a temporary worker program provided it is truly portable, and that there aren't incentives for employers to employ over American workers.
Kashkooli A: Yes, in addition, quality of treatment and path of citizenship to someone who are no longer temporary. Some are genuinely temporary. If you're here year after year, you're no longer temporary.
Q: Can all those skilled individuals working in agriculture be replaced?
Stallman A: No, probably not, with their experience. They can't all be replaced with future flow.

Representative Poe
Q: Mr, Carr, you have mentioned that in your experience, I want to address the issue of Americans will take the jobs that foreign nations are taking. I use to subscribe to that philosophy as well. Now, we have developed a culture, that unfortunately Americans will rather get paid not to work than to work on your farm.
So if I understand you correctly, you advertised for a couple of years, 2010-2012, for American workers, and you had 2000 positions available for farmworkers, and 483 Americans applied and they were hired. 109 didn't show up for work on the first day, and after a couple of days, 321 quit for various reasons. And therefore, you ended up with 31 Americans working the whole season. Is that experience that you've had typical of the industry in your opinion?
Carr A: Yes, that is very typical of the industry. Basically, 6% of all U.S. workers hired completed the job. Some in Georgia, Alabama reach up to 17%. We are required to hire Americans when we can. We have to hire any able and willing U.S. workers when they come through the door, regardless of skill or background. We take them through two days of training. Quite frankly, many of them quit before the training process. And like you said, 109 didn't even show up. And during pre-recruitment, we lose a visa for every American who agrees to work- even if they never show up.

Representative Jackson Lee
Q: Mr. Kashkooli. Could you expand on this concept of tying the workers to the contract and the federal government protecting the workers.
Kashkooli A: We want to see the protections in the H-2A program.

Representative Smith
Q: Mr. Kashkooli, in 1986, we had a special agricultural program, the SAW program. It was riddled with massive fraud. How do we avoid that fraud on that scale if we have a another guest worker program if virtually anyone can apply for it.
Kashkooli A: I certainly hope we all learned our lesson. So what we have proposed and have agreed to in the past is that there will be a future work requirement in agriculture.

Q: Mr. Stallman, my second concern is the endless pipeline. You end up with a million of people coming into the country not working in the jobs where they requested.
Stallman A: Our proposal is where ag employers will have to register first to provide jobs, 11 month portability program or a longer contract program. These employees have the ability to work from registered employer to employer.
Q: But there will be a modified pipeline. Leaving the original grower with the need
Stallman A: There's not going to be an unlimited number of agricultural jobs
Q: Mr. Brown, my third concern is this. If individuals stay for any substantial length of time, one they're not temporary, they're permanent, they are not going to go home. That's why a true guestworker program will be a short guestworker program
Brown A: I would respond in two ways, one there are ways to track these people currently, and to improve e-verify. When we bring guestworkers in to this country, we can set up through E-verify for a period of validation limited amount of time. [In response to Rep. Smith asking if the workers should go home] I think there should be a path to legalization.

Representative Garcia
Q: [in response to Rep. King's comment that since the 1986 amnesty, we've seen a decrease in enforcement under every administration] I don't think any of you would agree there's been a decrease in enforcement. A: Based on the reports by our members, it looks like enforcement by ICE have been increasing. Not only ICE, but also labor department, and also DOJ

Representative Labrador
Q: Mr Stallman, is there currently a cap on the number of visas issued under the H-2A?
Stallman A: It's based on need.

Q: Even though there is no cap, the one I get the most complaints from in my office is the H-2A program…We need to figure out a way to determine how many visas are needed. I'm not sure that a new government agency is the one to do it.
Carr A: I do believe a new agency need to administer to program. To put it under USDA, an agency that is used to working with farmers and in administering farm programs.

Q: Mr. Kashkooli, you want the free market to work, but that there should be a limit. Can you explain?
Kashkooli A: Free market, it shouldn't be an unlimited supply of minimum wage labor.

Q: Who determines the supply?
Kashkooli A: We think there's a number of ways. In the H-2A program, it's uncapped. So, it's always going to be available, we think should you should take the number of people who are going to be legalized under the program and increase the numbers of visas. There should also be a basic wage test, if farmworkers' wages are going down, we should limit the number of visas.

Witness List:

Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau Federation

Chalmers Carr
President and CEO, Titan Farms
Ridge Spring, SC

Michael J. Brown
President, National Chicken Council

Giev Kashkooli
Political/Legislative Director, 3rd Vice President
United Farm Workers

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 13022558.