Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the AG Act (H.R. 4092).

Chairman Goodlatte: If we want to ensure that America can continue to feed itself and much of the rest of the world, we must ensure a stable labor supply for agriculture.  For many years, agricultural employers have lacked access to a robust and reliable legal workforce.  The federal government has striven to direct American workers away from seasonal agricultural work, and this occupation is the only one universally acknowledged to have unlawful aliens compose a majority of its workforce.

Yet, for three decades, agricultural employers have had to endure a dysfunctional agricultural guestworker program.  Over the years, in the Agriculture Committee and the Judiciary Committee, I have had the opportunity to learn first-hand what farmers face in dealing with the H-2A program.  It is a costly, time-consuming, and flawed program.  They must expend a great deal of time and money each season in order to prove to the federal government what nearly everybody already knows to be the case: legal, dependable domestic farm labor is very hard to find.

In addition, the program forces growers to pay an artificially inflated wage rate.  Growers must pay an average of over $13 an hour in some states and still cannot find enough Americans willing to take the jobs.  Further, growers must provide free housing and daily transportation.  H-2A farms almost always find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace, in an industry where international market forces set prices.

A guest worker program should help farmers who are willing to pay a fair wage for law-abiding, dependable workers, not punish them.  For this reason I have long supported replacing the H-2A program with a workable guestworker program. Instead of encouraging more illegal immigration, successful guestworker reform can deter illegal immigration and help secure our borders.

Congress should provide a stable, legal agricultural workforce that employers can call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found.

The AG Act will replace the H-2A program with a new program that provides growers with streamlined access to guestworkers and enables dairies and food processors with year-round labor needs to participate.  The AG Act will assure a reliable workforce by creating a program that is market-driven and adaptable.  It will, subject to certain conditions, allow guestworkers to be employed at will, making it easier for workers to move freely throughout the agricultural marketplace to meet demand.  It will protect program users from abusive lawsuits.  The bill will not recreate the pitfalls of the H-2A program.  It will not require growers to:

  • hire and train unneeded workers after they have engaged in domestic recruitment and their guestworkers have arrived;
  • provide free housing and transportation; or
  • pay an unrealistic and uncompetitive wage rate dreamt up by Labor Department bureaucrats.

The new program will be at its core a true guestworker program.  It will not open up any pathway to citizenship.  As growers learned the hard way after the 1986 amnesty, illegal farmworkers will leave en mass and flock to more attractive jobs in the cities when they become permanent residents.  The bill simply allows agricultural employers to hire aliens who had been unlawfully present just as they can hire any other foreign nationals.  Such workers must abide by the same conditions as other guestworkers, including leaving the U.S. periodically to ensure that they retain ties with their home countries.  If they don’t, they will be deportable.

Finally, in response to concerns raised by some Members, I have made the following revisions to the AG Act:

  • H-2C will become available 6 months after enactment. In the interim, illegal workers are afforded no protection from enforcement;
  • No green cards are set aside for experienced agricultural workers;
  • The total cap is reduced to 450,000. 40,000 visas are for meat processing; 410,000 visas are for the remainder of agricultural jobs;
  • Each H-2C worker must have health insurance coverage;
  • Employers must pay H-2C workers in the meat processing sector not less than the State or local minimum wage, 150% of the Federal minimum wage, or the actual wage earned by other workers in the same job, whichever is greatest; and
  • Any duties and enforcement responsibilities that DHS currently has under the H2A program will remain at DHS under the H-2C program.

We have a real opportunity this Congress to enact true agricultural guestworker reform. I urge my colleagues to support the AG Act.

For more on the AG Act, click here.