Hearing on "Regional Perspectives on Agricultural Guestworker Programs"

Statement of
Richard T. Foltin, Esq.
Director of National and Legislative Affairs Office of Government and International Affairs American Jewish Committee

Submitted on behalf of the American Jewish Committee to
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement

Hearing on
“Regional Perspectives on Agricultural Guestworker Programs”

February 9, 2012

From its founding in 1906, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been a strong voice in support of fair and generous treatment of immigrants, participating actively in many of the major immigration debates of our time. AJC believes that immigration is fundamentally good for the U.S. economy and consistent with Jewish values. History has demonstrated that immigrants enrich this nation economically and culturally, and that immigration remains a central ingredient in bolstering America's economic strength and its proud tradition of democratic pluralism. Comprehensive reform of our nation’s broken immigration system will strengthen our nation’s economy by creating a pathway for undocumented workers to transition into legal taxpayers, ensure that American businesses have the skilled and unskilled labor they need to compete in a global economy, and encourage foreign-born entrepreneurs to start new businesses and stimulate job growth in the U.S. Fair and generous immigration policies will strengthen our nation’s global competiveness, even as a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system will give our country the flexible and forward looking policies we need to succeed in the future.

According to a CATO Institute report, legalization of immigrants would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.[1] The study found that legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would result in an income gain of 1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion for American households. Studies have also found that immigrants give a slight boost to the wages of most Americans by increasing their productivity and stimulating investment.[2] Furthermore, increasing the visas available to high and low-skilled immigrant workers would benefit American businesses by providing a sustainable, reliable and competitive workforce.

Addressing the low-skilled labor demands of the agricultural industry, AJC has in past years supported the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AGJOBS), a bill that would grant earned legalization to undocumented agricultural workers based both on past agricultural work in the U.S. and a prospective work requirement. In addition, taking into account heightened security concerns, the program would require background checks of applicants. Further, temporary residents who fail to fulfill the agricultural work requirements or are inadmissible under immigration law or have been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors would be denied adjustment to permanent resident status and would be subject to removal.

AJC recognizes that these seasonal agricultural workers, due to their migrant status, are highly vulnerable to economic exploitation and denial of their civil rights, with little ability to defend themselves. We support AgJOBS because it represents a step forward in putting such workers on the path to eligibility for earned legalization and citizenship, better protecting their rights, their access to our legal system and their stake in our society. We do not, however, support the “American Specialty Agriculture Act” (H.R. 2847), legislation that would create a new “H-2C” visa for temporary agricultural workers to replace the existing H-2A program. The proposed H-2C program would allow growers to bring in up to 500,000 temporary workers each year, but would also gut wages and worker protections, which is a serious concern to AJC. AJC also opposes the “Legal Workforce Act” (H.R. 2164), a mandatory E-Verify bill that would be permanently damaging to farm workers and farmers throughout the country. Also, both of these bills are stand-alone measures that do nothing to overhaul our broken immigration system. The American Specialty Agricultural Act and the Legal Workforce Act fail to offer a realistic pathway to legal status for the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants, do nothing to reduce the backlogs in the family-based immigration system, and they do nothing to create a flexible future flows system.

In short, adoption of an agricultural program that would allow the agricultural industry to meet their low-skilled labor demands while protecting their workforce from abuse and providing a path to citizenship for these hard-working low-skilled immigrants would ensure that American businesses have the labor they need to compete in a global economy and would help to create a fair and generous U.S. immigration policy would not only reflect our highest values of freedom, opportunity, and family cohesion, but also benefit our nation materially. In enacting a practical solution to America’s agricultural labor crisis, AJC urges the members of this committee to support a bill such as AgJOBS, which will strengthen our nation’s economy and provide a fair pathway to citizenship for a critical sector of the U.S. workforce.

AJC appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement and welcomes your questions and comments.

[1] Dixon, Peter B. and Maureen T. Rimmer, "Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform." August 13, 2009, p. 1, http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10438 (accessed August 2, 2011).
[2] Giovanni, Peri, “Rethinking the Effects of Immigration on Wages: New Data and Analysis from 1990 -2004”, October 2006, p. 6, http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/ docs/IPC%20Rethinking%20Wages,%2011-2006.pdf> < http:// www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/IPC%20 Rethinking%20Wages,%2011-2006.pdf (accessed August 2, 2011).
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