House Approps approves H2A, a farm group opposes
A United Farm Workers lobbyist said today that the group will attempt to stop an amendent to the fiscal year 2018 Homeland Security bill that would allow year-round ag workers to enter the United States under the H2A visa program just as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he will introduce an agricultural guestworker program shortly.
The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., to allow dairy farmers and others needing full-time laborers to bring them into the United States under the H2A program, which provides visas for temporary or seasonal workers.
The American Dairy Coalition today applauded the vote.
“Fundamental change occurred yesterday with the passing of Rep. Newhouse’s amendment,” noted Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition. “It shows both Republicans and Democrats understand the dairy industry demands a visa program to help alleviate the severe labor shortages across large segments of the industry. Our cows need to be cared for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
But Giev Kashkooli, vice president of United Farm Workers, told The Hagstrom Report today that the UFW was “caught by surprise” by the vote, which included support from Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas and Pete Aguilar of California.
Kashkooli said the UFW will campaign against the inclusion of the amendment in the bill before it reaches the House floor, and believes that it has until September to inform the country about it because the House is unlikely to take up the Homeland Security bill before the August recess.
Kashkooli said UFW maintains that year-round workers should not be allowed to enter the United States under the H2A program because American residents should be able to compete for those jobs.
UFW believes work on dairy farms is particularly dangerous because workers have died in pits of manure, he added.
He said it was “shocking” that Goodlatte appears ready to allow the appropriators to legislate an immigration matter on an appropriations bill.
Kashkooli made the statements on the sidelines of a House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee hearing related to Goodlatte’s plan to re-introduce what he calls an “agricultural guestworker” bill to replace the H2A program.
Goodlatte said his Ag Act, which he introduced in the 113th Congress, “would assure a reliable workforce by creating a program that is market-driven and adaptable. It would reduce red tape by adopting an attestation-based petition process. It would, subject to certain conditions, allow guestworkers to be employed at will, making it easier for workers to move freely throughout the agricultural marketplace to meet demand. It would protect program users from abusive lawsuits. It would apply to year-round dairy workers as well as seasonal workers.”
At the hearing, Sarah Frey, president & CEO of Frey Farms, an Illinois-based firm, and Jon Wyss, owner of Gebbers Farms in Washington state, testified about the problems they have had using the H2A program.
Wyss noted that he had offered jobs to forestry workers after a local business closed, but they turned the jobs down even though he would pay higher than service-sector jobs.
Frey said she needs the imported workers because are no workers to apply for jobs in her fruit and vegetable operations in interior states.
Kashkooli testified that many of the provisions to which farmers object, such as wage rates and housing requirements, were put in place because abuses had occurred.
Frey said she sometimes thinks that farmers hire undocumented workers because using the H2A program makes farmers a target for government agents to inspect their farms frequently.
The hearing was marked by statements by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who said he still believes there are Americans who are not working who should take the ag jobs.
King also said that he thinks the only way to assure that temporary workers return to their home countries each year is to have them bonded.
Countering King, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., noted that the witnesses testifying to the need for foreign workers were invited by the Republicans. Gutierrez also said King’s bonding proposal would likely mean yet another government agency would become involved in the process of bringing foreign farm workers into the country.
–The Hagstrom Report