“Growers are increasingly turning to the H-2A visa program to get the temporary labor they need, but the program needs reform. The agricultural industry wants and deserves a streamlined program that provides more certainty as to the temporary labor needed to sustain their businesses.
“H-2A users have asked Congress for many reforms of the H-2A program. Unfortunately, despite its proponents’ claims, H.R. 5038 doesn’t fix many of the issues with the program, and, in some cases, the bill makes the problems worse.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement at today’s markup of H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Georgia is home to a vast agriculture industry with hardworking farmers, ranchers, growers and processors who contribute to America’s economy every day. In the northeast corner where my district is located, more than 10,000 farm operators grow everything from peaches to cattle, chickens to strawberries.
There is no doubt that not enough American workers want to work in agriculture to fulfill the needs of the industry. Most farmers are offering competitive wages to attract workers, while at the same time being conscious of the reality that, when production costs get too high and they can no longer sell their crops at a competitive rate, they could be out of business.
Growers are increasingly turning to the H-2A visa program to get the temporary labor they need, but the program needs reform. The agricultural industry wants and deserves a streamlined program that provides more certainty as to the temporary labor needed to sustain their businesses.
H-2A users have asked Congress for many reforms of the H-2A program. Unfortunately, despite its proponents’ claims, H.R. 5038 doesn’t fix many of the issues with the program, and, in some cases, the bill makes the problems worse.
Growers have requested permanent, long-term wage rate relief instead of the unpredictable adverse effect wage rate that H-2A users are currently required to pay. This change would help farmers plan for the next growing season without facing increases of 6.2 percent like they did for fiscal year 2019. H.R. 5038 fails to provide long term stability in wage determinations.
H-2A users have asked for litigation reform that protects against frivolous lawsuits but provides an efficient way to resolve workers’ legitimate issues. H.R. 5038 does exactly the opposite — it subjects H-2A users to a private right of action in federal court.
Those who use the H-2A program have requested that control of the program be placed with the cabinet agency that understand growers, their needs and their processes. H.R. 5038 doesn’t do that.
The agricultural industry has asked that Congress provide access to the H-2A program for all sectors of agriculture. H.R. 5038, however, covers the dairy industry, but leaves out other important sectors like meat and poultry processing, forestry and aquaculture. Of course, as someone who represents a district where the poultry industry employs over 16,000 people and is a vital part of our economy, the fact that meat and poultry processors are left out represents an enormous problem.
H-2A users have asked for no cap on the program. Where H.R. 5038 does provide some visas for year-round work, it caps the number initially at the low rate of 20,000 per year and then reserves half of those for dairies. So, a measly 10,000 visas per year are provided for all other year-round agriculture needs. After that, the bill caps any increase at 12.5 percent — yet still reserves half for dairy.
While the 224 pages of H.R. 5038 make many more changes to the H-2A program — some good and some bad — one need look no further than the first few pages to figure out the real point of this bill: a path to citizenship for an unknown number of illegal immigrants who do some work in agriculture, along with their families.
Of course, we have no idea how many people will take advantage of this amnesty. Estimates from groups like Farmworker Justice put the number of farm workers in the U.S. at 2.4 million, while other estimates reach as high as 2.7 million. Even at the very conservative estimate that 50 percent of farm workers are here illegally, well over a million and a half people will get a path to citizenship, and, because that 50 percent number is from a self-reported survey, we can expect the number of illegal workers is even higher than that.
What are some other highlights of H.R. 5038? The bill promotes fraudulent applications through its extremely low document standards and the ability to withdraw a knowingly false application without prejudice. The bill allows aliens with multiple DUI convictions and charges to get amnesty. It forgives social security fraud and rewards aliens who engage in such fraud with a path to U.S. citizenship.
The bill defines a “work day” as only 5.75 hours long and only requires 100 of those each year in order to get a path to citizenship, and, better yet, an alien can be exempt from one year of work if they are a caretaker or are pregnant. The bill doesn’t require the alien to pay back taxes. H.R. 5038 rewards with amnesty those who failed to attend removal proceedings as well as those who were removed and illegally reentered America. The bill even authorizes U.S. taxpayer money to help illegal immigrants apply for amnesty and permits DHS to loot up to $10 million dollars from the fees paid by those seeking legal immigration benefits — such as naturalization.
There are many more provisions of this bill that concern me. At the outset of this Congress, I expressed to the subcommittee chair my desire to work together on an agricultural labor reform bill that has a chance to be enacted. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given that opportunity, and the bill before us is not something I can support. Like the other partisan bills pushed through this committee by this majority, it also has no chance of being enacted. So this bill represents yet another missed opportunity by Democrats.
I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.