In his July 18 Roll Call opinion piece, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, touted H.R. 2164, the Legal Workforce Act.
The bill, by Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), would mandate that all employers use the E-Verify system when hiring new employees.
Gallegly wrote that E-Verify is the best bill offered in Congress to put Americans back to work. What he didn’t write is that H.R. 2164 would deprive labor-intensive agriculture of its workforce.
That’s why the Irvine, Calif.-based United Agribusiness League asks Gallegly and other House Members to support an amendment calling for a special five-year visa for agricultural workers. It would mandate that those workers who are granted the special agriculture visa could work only in agriculture. That would ease industry’s concerns and fears of illegal immigration.
The league’s 14,000 employer members support improved immigration enforcement. But aggressive work-site-enforcement legislation such as H.R. 2164, without including broader reform, would cost California growers most of their workforce. The economic effect on California’s largest industry could be devastating.
Gallegly wrote, “The myth that illegal immigrants only hold jobs that American workers won’t do is just that — a myth.”
But it’s a fact. And Gallegly knows it.
He is constantly reminded of this by California growers who are forced to plow under specialty crops — including strawberries and cauliflower — because there is not enough labor to harvest them.
Gallegly knows — and his colleagues must know — that the domestic farm labor market has been tested extensively.
Efforts to recruit Americans for farm labor jobs have failed. There is not a domestic workforce sufficient to meet agriculture’s needs in farm states.
In the late 1990s, at the insistence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a multi-county, welfare-to-farm work program was launched in California’s Central Valley.
Regional unemployment ran 9 percent to 12 percent and, in some cases, exceeded 20 percent. State and county agencies and grower associations collaborated to identify cropping patterns, labor needs, training, transportation and other problems.
Of the 100,000 prospective welfare-to-work placements, three individuals were successfully placed. In the aftermath of the program, several employment agencies indicated — in writing — that they would no longer seek to place the unemployed in seasonal agricultural work because it was not a fit for these individuals.
History shows that illegal immigrants — who appear to be properly documented seasonal workers to California agribusiness employers — do fill jobs that Americans won’t. It’s not a myth.
A special five-year visa for agricultural workers must be included as an amendment to H.R. 2164. It would not be a path to legalization or a path to citizenship.
Instead, it would be a path to an ongoing legal agricultural workforce in California and across the country.
Richard G. Schmidt is president and CEO of United Agribusiness League in Irvine, Calif.