Immigrant farm labor was the topic of discussion at a hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security on Tuesday. Both Democrats and Republicans were in agreement that the current H-2A visa program isn’t working for farmers and accounts for a very small percentage of those workers.
Judiciary Committee chair, Bob Goodlatte told the hearing the H-2A program is a bureaucratic and financial nightmare for farmers which ultimately leaves them at a “competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.” The Virginia Republican said;”What all of this tells us is that farmers who participate in the H-2A program do so as a matter of last resort, and conscience. They do it because they know that, realistically, most of the available labor is illegal, and they don’t want to break the law.” He told the subcommittee: “I believe we should enable the large population of illegal farm workers to participate legally in American agriculture.”
American Farm Bureau president Bob Stallman agreed that the current system does not work and “by most estimates, is only able to supply 2-to-3 percent of the workers needed in agriculture.” He added; “U.S. agriculture faces a critical shortage of workers every year.” Stallman called for “legislative reform that includes both a program to provide access to a legal workforce into the future and an earned status adjustment for current experienced unauthorized agricultural workers. “
In written testimony, Giev Kashkooli with the United Farm Workers of America called for a comprehensive reform of immigration policy which includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegals in the country.
Meanwhile, with the threat of sequestration funding cuts hanging over their heads, immigration officials have released hundreds of detainees from immigration detention centers across the country. These are immigrants who are awaiting the results of pending court cases; they are free on supervised release. The Obama Administration says any individuals who pose a threat to public safety or serious criminal offenders remain in custody.
Gillian Christensen with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says the releases were to make the best use of limited detention resources. “As fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE’s current budget.”