” . . . H2A employers, who are doing their best to follow the law, are routinely undercut by growers who pay lower wages because they use laborers who are not authorized to work. This, combined with the lower cost of fruits, vegetables and other agriculture products grown in other countries and shipped to the U.S., are driving America’s farmers out of business.”
WASHINGTON – Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following statement at today’s subcommittee hearing on immigration in agriculture.
Below are the remarks as prepared:
Ranking Member Doug Collins: Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Before we begin, I must again note the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border worsens every day, and this committee – which enjoys jurisdiction over immigration – has ignored the problem. So many family units are crossing the border that border patrol is being forced to simply release them into America’s interior. House Democrats deny there’s a humanitarian or security crisis while blaming President Trump for conditions at the border. In both cases, their response is to take no action.
We’re here today to consider another important issue, the nexus of immigration and agriculture. My Congressional district in northeast Georgia is home to a vast agriculture industry and hardworking farmers, ranchers, growers and processors who contribute to America’s economy and our communities every day. In our corner of the state, more than 10,000 farm operators grow everything from peaches to cattle and from chicken to strawberries. I’m pleased a grower from south Georgia, Bill Brim, is here today to explain why Congress needs to provide a workable solution to the labor needs of the agriculture industry.
I know firsthand what farmers face when they try to assemble an adequate workforce. Farmers, like Drew Echols of Jaemor Farms, need help harvesting crops. Georgia peaches are fickle, so timing is everything — but the H2A system offers almost no flexibility. This means extra hands may arrive too early or too late to get fruit off the tree and into that homemade pie. Workers who arrive before crops have ripened aren’t allowed to find work on other farms while they wait.
At the same time, family operations, like Jaemor, invest a lot of time and money applying for H2A workers, knowing those applications aren’t always processed in time to get workers onto American farms. Farmers need a more flexible and less bureaucratic system as the agricultural industry — including meat processors — strives to put food on American tables.
Right now, to secure an H2A employee, growers must start with the Labor Department’s certification process. By law, the department must certify there are not sufficient “able, willing, and qualified” U.S. workers to fill the job and employing an H2A worker “will not adversely affect the wage or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”
While I believe these requirements were well-intentioned, we should revisit their implementation since they have expensive and time-consuming side effects, even though we all know that growers simply cannot find U.S. workers. Most Americans would prefer to work less labor-intensive jobs, preferably with air conditioning. Even in rural areas with a long, rich agricultural tradition, farmers often raise their children to pursue other lines of work.
Using the H2A program is also cost prohibitive. Many times, growers must pay over a thousand dollars in fees per worker to the government and to a recruiter. In many states, agriculture employers are required to pay artificially high wage rates. The Adverse Effect Wage Rate is over $11 per hour at its lowest and over $15 an hour at its highest, depending on the state. On top of these costs, growers must provide transportation and housing to H2A workers once they arrive in the U.S.
These H2A employers, who are doing their best to follow the law, are routinely undercut by growers who pay lower wages because they use laborers who are not authorized to work.
This, combined with the lower cost of fruits, vegetables and other agriculture products grown in other countries and shipped to the U.S., are driving America’s farmers out of business. Their current position, and, by extension, the current H2A program, is simply unsustainable.
Congress has the ability, and the responsibility, to enact a reasonable agricultural guest-worker program so growers can pay legal workers a fair wage and also make a fair living themselves.
What does such a program look like? That’s a topic we’ll discuss today. I know the subcommittee chair has an agricultural worker bill. I don’t believe it’s a viable solution since it legalizes the current agricultural workforce without providing for a future flow of legal workers. We’ll need those workers down the road once the current workers realize their employment authorization also allows them to trade agricultural work for less labor-intensive industries.
That said, I take the chair at her word: she wants to find a workable solution for growers, and I hope to work with her toward that goal. The repercussions of not fixing this problem – a country whose produce aisles offer nothing “grown in the USA” – are unacceptable.
I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony, and yield back the balance of my time.