Quiet Talks on Immigration Continue
Monday, October 14, 2013
Posted by: Craig Regelbrugge, ANLA
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Though the federal government shutdown has intruded, negotiations continue in the hopes of House action on immigration legislation later this year. So far, five bills targeting border security, interior enforcement, E-Verify, visas for the highly educated and skilled, and an agricultural guest worker program have been approved by House committees.
Several other bills may be considered, including a resolution for some young people brought to the country as minors, a more general legalization, and a visa program for non-agricultural and non-seasonal jobs that require minimal formal education.
PLNA has been working with other Pennsylvania ag groups to meet with Pennsylvania's House delegation to urge their support for House action on immigration reform.
Guest Worker Programs
On the farm, nursery, and greenhouse worker front, efforts continue to improve H.R.1773, the Agricultural Guestworker Act, or "Ag Act” for short. ANLA and coalition partners met with House Judiciary staff on September 30 to continue discussions focusing on what most see as fundamental problems with the bill’s visa cap, wage structure, lack of a realistic "at will” employment option, and treatment of the current workforce. Though under heavy pressure to endorse the bill, most agricultural groups including ANLA see a resolution of the most fundamental concerns as a necessary prerequisite to full support.
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that a legalization bill is under development. The details of a legalization program could substantially change – for better or worse – the options and outlook for growers and workers. While current workers without proper immigration status could enter into H-2C guest worker status under the Ag Act, many experts believe that the structure of the program would not appeal to workers who have been in the U.S. for more than a few years, and have other roots such as stable employment, spouses, and children. Data suggest that half of the unauthorized farm workers in the U.S. are married, and upwards of three quarters of their children are U.S.-born.
Some of ANLA’s most knowledgeable and experienced H-2A program users have carefully reviewed the Ag Act, and have voiced concerns that it may fail to resolve serious shortcomings of H-2A. Because in many cases the bill uses current H-2A language, or presents alternative language that is ambiguous, current interpretations regarding wages, treatment of "corresponding workers,” or the right to maintain an experience requirement or pre-employment drug testing may wind up in the new program.
Political realities further complicate the picture. Because the Ag Act eliminates most current protections and some economic benefits provided to workers under the H-2A program, Democrats are likely to uniformly oppose it without significant changes that bring it more in alignment with the agricultural employer/worker advocate agreement that was folded into the Senate immigration bill. Without some votes from Democrats, the expected loss of roughly 20 to 50 Republican votes would doom the bill to failure on the floor.
With the first possible window for progress on immigration coming in November, House negotiations are expected to continue over the next several weeks. All this, of course, depends on resolution of the shutdown and debt limit stalemate.