By F. Brandon Mallory
Those of us who supply agricultural labor to farms and the labor-intensive farms that employ these laborers are truly at a crossroads. The status quo is not only unacceptable, but it is no longer maintainable! We get calls almost daily from farmers since finding enough farmworkers is becoming increasingly more difficult. We are running out of options as we head for a “perfect storm” as described below. We simply must devise a workable system that will allow farms to source the laborers they need and when they need them to produce our food.
Several factors have caused these labor shortages. These factors include increased border security, vigorous Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations, stakeouts, deportations, and Form I-9 audits. Even local sheriffs and State police are going out of their way to seek out those who they suspect might not have legal immigration documents. U.S. citizens from Generations X, Y and Millennialists, are, quite frankly, largely uninterested in doing difficult farm work. All of these factors coupled with an improving U.S. and Mexican economy spell unprecedented farm labor shortages in the U.S.
Once again, I see a glimmer of hope. On January 30, 2014, House Republican leaders outlined a plan of broad immigration principles, including possible legalization for the 11 million immigrants living and working in the U.S. with illegal documents. Although House Speaker John Boehner has categorically stated they will not take up the comprehensive immigration legislation that the Senate passed last year, they have moved in the direction of being serious about doing something during this midterm time-frame.
Below is a summary of the proposed House Republican “Statement of Principles” or the “Standards for Immigration Reform”:
1. Border Security and Interior Enforcement Must Come First: It is the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders, and the U.S. is failing in this mission. We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future.
2. Implement Entry-Exit Visa Tracking System: We must fully implement a functioning Entry-Exist System using bio-metric technology to verify identity and prevent fraud.
3. Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement: We must fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system.
4. Reforms to the Legal Immigration System: Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employees and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy. The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the U.S. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.
5. Youth: One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.
6. Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law: Our national and economic security depends on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws. These persons could live here legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program.
Since writing this article, Speaker Boehner made the following statement during remarks on immigration policy: “House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.” I hope this is political posturing and not a line drawn in the sand! Also recently, a multi-industry letter signed by 636 business organizations in support of immigration reform was sent to Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. This letter may be accessed online at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website: https://www.uschamber.com/letter/multi-industry-letter-immigration-reform
We will stand by and keep you informed since we have been working on immigration reform for 20 years now. Perhaps this is the closest we have come; however, close is not enough! We have to get it done! To us, one of the biggest threats to our national security is the threat that our farms cannot function in the U.S. and that we become a primary importer of our food, as we have become primary importers of our oil! If you are experiencing labor shortages, need help managing employees, or advice with Form I-9 or Dept. of Labor law compliance, please contact APS.