Farm Industry Backs Democrats in Amnesty-for-Cheap-Labor Swap

farm workers
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Much of the agriculture sector applauded Democrats on the House judiciary committee who passed their joint amnesty-for-cheap-workers bargain in a party-line vote, 18 to 12.

The legislation would aid the Democrat Party by delivering green cards to at least 500,000 illegal migrants — perhaps 1.25 million — so putting them on a path to the voting booth in 2026.

In turn, the bill offers a limitless supply of cheap, government-supplied H-2A visa workers to the food-sector businesses and investor groups, which usually support GOP legislators.

The amnesty-for-cheap-labor deal is backed by hundreds of agriculture-sector business groups, as well as the Koch-funded Libre Initiative and the Cato Institute. It is also supported by a group of 20 GOP legislators from rural districts, including GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse, who owns Washington state orchards, which are served by migrant labor.

However, some agriculture groups have stayed out of the fight. The American Farm Bureau Federation, for example, has not joined the Democrats’ bandwagon.

Farm employers and legislators expect that many of the amnestied illegals would quit the farm economy to take jobs in cities and towns, and then compete for the urban jobs which are sought by Americans.

So the bill replaces the departed illegals with an expanded inflow of H-2A visa-workers, whose wages are to be set by legislators and government officials.

The bill also offers 40,000 green cards each year to the H-2A workers. This offer would create a huge incentive for H-2A workers to accept a status similar to indentured workers, in which they diligently work for low wages in the hope of winning the huge prize of green-cards from their employers.

The massive future flow of H-2As, plus the offer of citizenship to compliant H-2As, will likely destroy the ability of American employees and immigrants to bargain for better wages. The federal supply of cheap labor will also shrink corporate investment into the productivity-boosting technology, which is needed by farm towns to preserve prosperity and to keep their young people from migrating elsewhere. Those trends would likely leave many rural towns under the thumb of a few large employers, such as low-tech meat processors, and would also hollow out the rural districts, which provide many GOP legislators to Congress.

Democrats are eager for the company-town deal. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the author of the legislation, repeatedly described the corporatist bargain during the bill’s markup votes on November 20:

The bill implements a wage freeze for the year 2020 [for 250,000 H-2A visa workers]. This is a very important matter for employers, [and] wages are expected to increase by another seven to eight percent next year. Under this bill, those wage increases won’t happen.

I would prefer that these wage concessions were not in the bill. But this bill is a compromise to make sure that the [illegal] farmworkers today that are looking over their shoulder in fear of deportation will no longer face that nightmare. And it is a compromise that allows additional [migrant] people to come in to meet the growing [worker] needs of our agriculture sector.

The Democrat-led corporate giveaway is expected to pass the House, aided by a group of GOP legislators. The 20 GOP sponsors include several of the most business-friendly GOP leaders and several former GOP leaders in the House:

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-02); Rep. James Baird (R-IN-04); Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05); Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-04); Rep. John Curtis  (R-UT-03); Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13); Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25); Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-07); Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01); Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05); Rep. Paul Mitchell  (R-MI-10); Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04); Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA-22); Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY-23); Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-02); Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21); Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15); Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06); Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02), and Rep. Don Young (R-AK-At Large). reported that Newhouse is urging the GOP to back the amnesty-and-cheap-labor bill:

Newhouse, who is not a member of the Judiciary committee, told Agri-Pulse his fellow Republicans opposed to his bill should visit with farmers in their districts.

He said by doing that “they will understand this is a critical issue that needs to be solved and this bill actually provides a lot of relief to our agriculture industry.

Newhouse’s Washington state district is being turned blue by a wave of Democrat-voting sons and daughters of farm migrants.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell can block the Democrats’ amnesty in the Senate, at least until 2021.

But the Democrats’ deal with agriculture employers creates a political problem for GOP legislators who have long tried to balance their donors’ demand for cheap labor and their voters’ desire for rising wages. That problem is especially tricky for GOP legislators in districts with many farm employers — and a growing share of Democrat voters.

This Democrat strategy poses a problem for GOP legislators because the U.S. agriculture industry is facing more competition from abroad. The low prices for its commodity products — milk, cheese, beef, fruits — are also making it difficult for farmers to compete for labor against other industries. North Dakota’s GOP Rep. Kelly Armstrong told the committee that North Dakota’s farmers need the imported H-2A workers because:

A really good thing for the rest of the state is we have 20,000-plus [open] jobs, and those jobs are in the oil patch or in construction, They’re in the service industry, they are in lot sof these different issues, all of which can pay over-market prices … [causing] North Dakota farmers and ranchers to run into situations where they can’t compete in a true labor market, which is where the H-2A program and legal ag[riculture]-labor immigration comes into play … We can compete in the ag-labor market. What we cannot do is compete against other industries for that labor.

The GOP can fend off the Democrats’ outreach to their farm-industry supporters, said Mark Krikorian, director at the Center for Immigration Studies:

The fact is that any business has a lot of interests, and while the Democrats are trying to split business from Republicans on [labor] immigration, they are never going to be able to compete with the GOP with on things like regulation and taxes. I’m not sure in the long run it is going to work

Republicans do not have to go along with this, because, in every other way, they are much more in line with the preferences of business in general and farms in particular. Immigration is the only area where the Democrats can make the case to farmers – maybe they will enjoy success. But it is one issue among many.

So far, the GOP’s response to the Democrats’ deal with the farm business has been to say they support the bill’s offer of government-supplied workers to employers — but that they cannot vote for the Democrats’ unpopular, generous, and unlimited amnesty.

This two-step protects GOP legislators who fear losing their jobs to immigrant-backed Democrats — but it also preserves their ties with the business groups which provide the funding needed by GOP legislators to stay in power. GOP Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, for example, complained the bill did not provide enough cheap-labor H-2A workers to farmers and ranchers, but then argued against the amnesty:

I support our farmers and ranchers who put food on our tables and give our nation a great sense of security. I am committed to crafting a solution that ensures our nation’s agricultural employers have a stable labor supply that the crops are harvested on time and the cows are milked, every day, on this issue I want to get to yes and I very much appreciate.

However, I have significant concerns with a bill before us today.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act fails to receive buy-in from a number of agricultural constituencies, including the American Farm Bureau. In fact, this bill fails to account for a number of important structural problems program problems with the existing H-2A temporary guest-worker program, and it creates a host of new problems.

First, this bill opens the door to a massive amnesty. We’re bringing a bill to mark up without even the slightest idea of how many individuals this bill would put on a pathway to citizenship. HR.5038 allows individuals to apply for legal status and work permits, which are not limited to agricultural industries with little more than an affidavit claiming that the individual worked unlawfully in this country for 1,035 hours or 180-day workday over the past two years. Furthermore, the alien who is petitioning for status under the bill can certify his or her own affidavit under a just and reasonable standard. Existing case law finds the just and reasonable standard essentially requires adjudicators to accept a petition based on nothing more than an individual’s words.

[But] the new pool of 20,000 year-round visas falls far short of industry’s needs and fails to fix the problematic portion of existing law.

I want to support the farmers and ranchers in my district and throughout the country by passing legislation to ensure they have a reliable labor pool. This committee, and the House more broadly want to strike an agriculture labor agreement. Unfortunately, this bill is flawed, and I cannot support it in its current form as chairman I want to mention that I have visited a number of my farms and especially in southeastern Colorado where we grow the best melons in the country. And I can tell you that to a farmer, I have heard consistently that the H-2A program is necessary. And it is a great benefit to them. It can use improvement, and I look forward to supporting an improved version.

Buck defended the GOP’s concerns about amnesty and voting, but he did not defend the American employees who elect Republicans to office.

Many American employees in agriculture likely would be sidelined if employers can hire from a government-provided supply of H-2A workers and also pay those foreigners with a cheap promise of government-provided citizenship.

In July 2019, Buck used the similar same employer-first arguments to support HR.1044, a bill which rewards Indian graduates with citizenship if they grab jobs from American graduates, including the college-graduate sons and daughters of farmers in his own Colorado district. The bill — numbered S.386 in the Senate — was drafted by business groups who have imported at least 750,000 graduates from India to fill tech jobs sought by millions of American graduates.

In his floor speech, Buck touted the HR.1044 bill and the concerns of Indian workers — but did not defend the Colorado graduates in his district who would lose jobs and salaries when their careers are provided to Indian H-1B workers:

I want to tell you why this bill has a special place in my heart. Two years ago, as I was traveling through my district, I met with a group of [Indian] individuals who were here legally but felt they were being put at a disadvantaged by our government’s immigration policies. They were resolute that I and Congress, more broadly, could change their futures for the better. As we sat together, my new friends shared their stories of coming to the United States with a great sense of hope.

They came here for any number of reasons, but every single person arrived, seeking a new opportunity to succeed and realize their American dream. During our conversation, we talked about a bill, but what we were really were discussing was these individuals’ hopes and dreams for a future that will be brighter because of this legislation. Mr. Speaker, our immigration policies are leaving these people stuck between a rock and a hard place. They made the difficult decision to pack up and leave [their homes] to work in the greatest country of the world, but now these same people found themselves cut in a decades’ long backlog to receive a green card, waiting to open their businesses, creating jobs.

At this moment, there are approximately 1.5 million high-skilled immigrants living in the United States on an employment-based visa. They’re working hard and paying their taxes, yet they face decades’ long wait, sometimes up to 70 years, to receive a green card.

We shouldn’t hamstring our economy by placing artificial caps on who can get a green card quicker based solely on where you’re born … We shouldn’t be punishing highly skilled individuals who come to this country legally. People who do everything the right way and are only seeking an opportunity to work hard contribute to the United States economy and support their families. We should be celebrating this and helping to create an equitable system that benefits both U.S. companies and employment-based visa holders. I’m happy to say that’s exactly what this bill does. the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants act creates an equitable system that eliminates the arbitrary per-country caps on

This important change will free U.S. companies to focus on what they do best — hiring smart people to create products, services, and jobs in our districts while ensuring all employment-based visa applicants are evaluated on their merit, not where they come from … We need to create an equitable system that helps our businesses and is fair to the individuals who came here looking to achieve their own dream, to live and work in the greatest country in the world.

Buck’s HR.1044 passed the House. But the Senate’s S.368 version has been blocked by Democrats who are demanding higher immigration as the price for approval of the Indian green-card bill.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.