House Sets Wednesday Vote for Farmworker Amnesty, Creation of Powerless Workforce

Temporary agricultural workers walk off a lettuce farm at the end of their shift outside Yuma, Arizona, on February 15, 2017.
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The House will vote Wednesday to approve or reject a bill that offers fraud-prone amnesty for illegal migrants who claim to have worked on a farm.

The legislation also allows companies to import an unlimited number of replaceable H-2A visa workers to replace the illegals — and to replace any Americans who ask for decent wages or investment in machinery. The H-2A migrants could bring their families, and also apply for green cards.

Pro-migration Democrats and their constituency groups back the bill. The groups include a union that represents illegals and trade associations that champion the West Coast farm employers who rely on cheap imported labor. The bill is also backed by a small group of GOP legislators from farm and dairy districts.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, or H.R. 5038, would likely change rural America by allowing investors and employers to import their own workforce of indentured, powerless, and temporary H-2A workers — and their families. The resulting flood of cheap labor would likely shrink investors’ spending on the labor-saving machines and productivity-boosting technologies that are needed by American employees to keep pace with fast-developing foreign agricultural enterprises.

The indentured workforce would likely leave rural Americans and their communities in a two-tier society where they have few opportunities to raise their wages. The harm to Americans caused by the current flood of government-supplied H-2A visa labor was cited in a November 20 article published by the Los Angeles Times:

The use of visa-holding laborers has affected the power dynamic between growers and workers at a time when laborers could be demanding higher wages and better benefits, labor experts say. Locally hired workers — who may or may not have proper documents — fear deportation or replacement with H-2A laborers, whose wages are set by the federal government. And the visa holders fear they will not be recruited next season if they complain.

That makes it hard to fight abuses, despite a sharp increase in complaints registered at the field offices of California Rural Legal Assistance.

Immigration reform groups oppose the bill, but it is being rushed through the House amid the uproar over impeachment.

“We’re getting our people to ignore the distraction of the impeachment show, and focus on the real issues, which is this amnesty for millions of illegal aliens coming through the ‘farm modernization act,'” said Bill Gheen, founder of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC. The bill “is the new amnesty vehicle,” he said:

What we’re asking our supporters to do is to call members of Congress and warn them we will not be supporting anyone who votes for this amnesty for illegal aliens, and we will seek to replace them … over 80 percent of the GOP base opposes any form of amnesty and this is going to be a big issue on voters’ minds in 2020.

The bill is also being opposed by many GOP legislators who recognize that the amnesty of workers and their families will give Democrats millions of new voters over the next decade. The amnesty would block immigration enforcement nationwide, open up new opportunities for electoral fraud, and create new demands for cheap imported labor in other sectors of the economy.

Democrats want the amnesty so much they are openly willing to trade wage cuts to get the new voters. On November 20, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the author of the legislation, repeatedly described the corporatist bargain during the bill’s markup votes:

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.

This bill adds wage caps to prevent wages [H-2A visa workers] going up by more than 3.25 percent in most of the country. Considering that the AEWR rates [Adverse Effect Wage Rate for H-2As] recently went up 23 percent in certain states, this is a big concession. Those kinds of wage increases would no longer happen under this bill.

These are significant wage reforms — a recent report by the CATO institute found that the bill, if enacted, would have saved farmers $324 million in labor expenses in 2019 alone.

The endless supply of cheaper labor will reduce marketplace pressure on U.S. farm companies to buy more labor-saving machines. Those machines allow well-paid U.S. engineering and technicians to replace illegal immigrant stoop labor throughout the agriculture sector and would raise living standards through rural America, including in the areas hit by the opioid disaster:

For much of the last century, U.S. agriculture companies have tried to minimize spending on labor-saving machinery by importing cheap workers. But whenever Americans forced their government to curb the supply of cheap labor, farms spent more on high-tech investment in machinery. In the late 1920s, after the 1924 immigration act successfully reduced the inflow of migrants, “farmers also shift[ed] away from the use of draft animals (horses and mules), which are direct substitutes for new gasoline-powered tractor technology …  [and] farmers shifted to a more capital-intensive agriculture,” says a December 2019 economic study, titled “The Effects of Immigration on the Economy: Lessons from the 1920s Border Closure.”

GOP legislators denounced the amnesty, even as they tried to show their support for agriculture and meatpacking companies in their districts. North Dakota’s GOP Rep. Kelly Armstrong told the committee that North Dakota’s farmers need the imported H-2A workers:

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.

GOP Colorado Rep. Ken Buck 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.

[But] 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.

If the bill becomes law, the impact on Americans’ towns would be huge.

In Worthington, Minnesota, local business groups and progressives have invited low-wage migrants into the city’s retail and slaughterhouse jobs and into housing. The increased number of migrants boosted rents and local spending with their low wages and gradually brought their children to the town, thereby crowding the school needed by the locals. On November 5, the local business leaders narrowly defeated the voters — 1,719 to 1,700 — to impose $34 million in school spending on the town’s taxpayers. The Bemidji Pioneer reported:

Worthington School District residents approved all three of the district’s referendum questions. Passage of all three questions means the district gave the green light for the district to sell up to $33.7 million in general obligation bonds to construct a new intermediate school designed to educate 900 third , fourth and fifth-grade students. The district is [also] committing $5 million from its general fund to account for the estimated $38.7 million project.

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).

The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate because the GOP leadership seems to have finally recognized how amnesties flip states from Republican to Democrat.

GOP legislators recognize that their GOP voters viscerally oppose the amnesties that Democrats and business groups use to fracture the political power of American communities and to force down Americans’ wages, training, and career options:

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