Creating a Workable Option for Agriculture
It is important that Congress recognize the need for a stable, legal agricultural workforce that the agricultural industry can call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found.We all know the importance of farming. From apple orchards, dairy farms, and poultry processing here in Virginia to cattle farms and ranches here and in the West to specialty crops in California, Michigan, and Florida, America’s agricultural industry produces a bounty of products in every state. Nevertheless, our nation’s farmers face many obstacles. One challenge in particular is access to a stable and reliable workforce when not enough American workers can be found to fill jobs. 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.
In my roles on the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees, I have had the opportunity to learn firsthand over the years what farmers face in dealing with the H-2A program, the current program that provides for agricultural guestworkers. Each year, employers using the H-2A program have to comply with a lengthy labor certification process that is slow and plagued with red tape. As a result of complying with H-2A regulations, employers using the program almost always find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This program is unworkable and must be replaced.
The Agricultural Guestworker Act, or AG Act, is a bill I introduced to replace the outdated and broken H-2A program with a reliable, efficient, and fair program and provide American farmers access to a legal, stable supply of workers. The AG Act, which was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, creates a new H-2C guestworker program designed to meet the needs of the diverse agriculture industry. This new program ensures that Americans have the first opportunity for agricultural jobs, but provides a common sense way for guestworkers to fill the gaps if there isn’t enough domestic demand. It also provides more flexibility and less red tape for American farmers using the program.
To further deter illegal immigration, the Ag Act takes important steps to protect American jobs by directly linking the new H-2C program with the implementation of the E-Verify program, an online tool that allows employers to quickly and efficiently verify employee work eligibility. The Judiciary Committee passed the Legal Workforce Act, which makes E-Verify mandatory for employers, on the same day as the Ag Act. The Ag Act plays an important role in fixing the immigration system. Instead of encouraging more illegal immigration by agricultural workers, successful guestworker reform can deter illegal immigration and help secure our borders.
It is important that Congress recognize the need for a stable, legal agricultural workforce that the agricultural industry can call upon when sufficient American labor cannot be found. I look forward to working with Members of Congress to get this bill to the House floor. Improvements made in the Ag Act will help ensure that our meat and produce continue to be grown in America and that our nation’s agricultural industry thrives in the global marketplace.