Goodlatte revises H-2C immigration proposal | TheFencePost.com

Goodlatte revises H-2C immigration proposal

-The Hagstrom Report

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., last week quietly rewrote parts of his farm labor immigration proposal known as H-2C at the urging of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Food and Environment Reporting Network reported Feb. 21.

But the California Farm Bureau Federation has said it cannot support the bill as rewritten.

As FERN noted, "Goodlatte's H-2C visa would replace the current, seasonal H-2A visa, which is criticized by farmers as unwieldy to use and unreliable in providing workers when they are needed at harvest time."

"The H-2C visa would be open to meatpackers, dairies and the timber industry — a first," FERN reported. "Visas for specialized jobs would run for up to three years before workers are obliged to leave the United States and apply for re-entry. Employers would no longer be responsible for transportation or housing of guestworkers and wages could be as low as $8.34 an hour. But workers would gain the freedom to quit a job and work someplace else, once the E-Verify system is in operation."

FERN also said In response to "agriculture's concern," Goodlatte altered the committee-passed plan in five areas to ensure there will be enough farm workers, according to a one-page Judiciary Committee fact sheet.

Under the changes, FERN said:

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» Farmers would be allowed to obtain pre-approval of H-2C visas for workers before they leave the country and it would allow a year, instead of the original six months, for undocumented workers to meet the "touch back" requirement.

» To assure there are enough seasonal workers, the standard visa would last for 24 months, instead of the original 18 months, "This would increase the total number of agricultural workers subject to the cap who could be in the United States at any one time to 900,000 after the first year of the program," said the Judiciary Committee.

» The revisions also would give agricultural employers 24 months to adopt the E-Verify system of digitally checking if applicants can work legally in the United States and it specifies the Homeland Security Department must have E-Verify in operation within 24 months of enactment of the law, meaning H-2C guestworkers could work "at will" after that point.

Under the revisions, there would be a hard cap of 40,000 visas per year for the meatpacking industry.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a news release, "We are at a crisis point in agriculture. Chairman Bob Goodlatte wants to address our problem and has included the AG Act in pending legislation related to the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) issue."

"Chairman Goodlatte's AG Act would establish a new H-2C agriculture worker program that is far superior to the existing H-2A program," Duvall said. "The new H-2C program offers a much brighter future for agriculture. For farmers in sectors like dairy, mushrooms and others, who are excluded from H-2A and have nowhere else to turn, the H-2C program offers a path forward in meeting their future labor needs."

"At the same time, we are continuing to work with Chairman Goodlatte and other members of congress to provide greater assurances on how the AG Act would affect our existing workforce," Duvall said. "Farmers today rely on these workers. They sustain our farms. They are part of the fabric of many rural economies. Farm Bureau policy supports providing these workers the opportunity to earn permanent legal status. That is our goal and we will do everything we can to achieve it."

But the same day, the California Farm Bureau Federation said in a release on its website that it cannot support a part of the bill that addresses agricultural employees.

The California Farm Bureau said, "Now before Congress, H.R. 4760, the Securing America's Future Act, would fund a border wall and address internal immigration enforcement and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It also includes an Agricultural Guestworker Act, or AG Act, which would create a new agricultural visa program."

CFBF President Jamie Johansson said the AG Act, in its current form, contains a number of features that would harm the current immigrant employees on whom California farms and ranches depend. In addition, he said, it would mandate use of the E-Verify electronic workplace-eligibility system, which could affect a large proportion of current agricultural employees.

"As now written, the AG Act just wouldn't work for California farms and ranches," Johansson said. "There's a longstanding need to create a workable temporary-visa program for agriculture that provides greater stability and opportunities for agricultural employees and their families. The AG Act would cause too much disruption for our employees and our communities."

Johansson said CFBF and other organizations have offered a number of recommendations for creating a more practical and flexible program to allow people from other countries to enter the U.S. to work on farms and ranches.

"We know the American Farm Bureau and other national agricultural organizations have decided to support the AG Act, and they have every right to do so," Johansson said.

"But as the largest agricultural organization in the largest agricultural state, we must advocate for a solution that works for our members and their employees. For California farmers and ranchers, the combination of the AG Act and E-Verify would actually worsen chronic agricultural employee shortages. We will press for a better solution."

Perdue talks immigration, says Conaway interested in food boxes

During his trip to California last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discussed immigration issues and defended his proposal for a pilot project to send food boxes to people who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rather than using Electronic Benefit Transfer cards that can be used to buy food in grocery stores and other food outlets.

Politico also reported that Perdue said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, is willing to consider a pilot project on the food box proposal.

But a Conaway aide said only, “The committee is taking due diligence to look at it right now,” Politico reported.