Reform Groups Rally Opposition to Farmworker Amnesty, H-2A Outsourcing Vote on Wednesday

File - In this May 10, 2011 file photo, field workers pick onion bulbs on a Vidalia onion farm in Lyons, Ga. Georgia and Alabama have approved laws that have tough enforcement provisions that farmers say are scaring migrant workers away from the states. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
David Goldman/AP Photo

Reform groups are pressuring GOP and Democrat legislators to vote against a draft bill that would amnesty at least 500,000 illegal farmworkers and replace them with an expanding inflow of government-delivered, powerless, and low-wage H-2A visa workers.

The amnesty-and-replacement bill is likely to pass on Wednesday. But it will be easier to stop in the Senate if the reform groups can show bipartisan opposition to the H.R. 5038 bill, which would also outsource the jobs held by large numbers of American employees — as well as the illegals — to an uncapped flood of disposable H-2A stoop-labor workers.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it not pass,” said Rosemary Jenks, policy director at NumbersUSA. Some Republicans want to vote for the outsourcing bill, but “I’m hoping it will not be as high as 30, and I’m hoping we are pulling them off just as they realize how bad this bill is.”

Jenks said her group is gaining traction by showing Republicans how the Democrats’ amnesty rules in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will allow foreign drug dealers and prostitutes to get citizenship. That pressure helps Republicans by giving them a reason to say no to their donors.

But one of the bill’s GOP sponsors says President Donald Trump supports the amnesty. In the Yakima Herald-Republic, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) claimed:

This is exactly the kind of merit-based immigration reform President Trump has been calling for.

I spoke directly with President Trump about the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the need for a solution for our farmers. He agreed: We must provide relief now. As the bill moves through the legislative process, I am committed to working with my Senate colleagues in order to send the best possible version of this bill to the president’s desk for signature.

Pro-migration groups are keeping a low profile, partly because they hope to minimize media coverage of the unpopular amnesty and outsourcing plans. “I have not seen any [establishment media coverage] — impeachment has taken all the oxygen out of the room,” she said.

Another danger posed by the Democrats’ workforce replacement bill is spotlighted by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), who has drafted a similar H-2A bill to replace American farmworkers with H-2A farmworkers. But Yoho also says Congress could start importing H-2B visa workers who will take millions of jobs, career opportunities, and hopes for wage raises for the many millions of Americans who work in the 20 million hospitality or construction jobs. Yoho’s statement says:

This proposal will focus on the agricultural sector but will work in similar ways for the construction and hospitality sectors.

Additional legislation will be introduced to create similar programs under the H-2B Program. These programs will remain and be administered under the H2-B Program.

Yoho’s statement says:

With this opportunity, and years of work on the issue, this proposal outlines a plan that would create a guest worker program to fulfill the labor needs in three sectors under the banner of a guest worker program. These sectors are agriculture, construction, and hospitality. Those who understand these sectors know that the labor demands cannot be satisfied by domestic labor alone. These industries need a reliable, predictable, and steady supply of workers with the flexibility to come and go as the growing/busy seasons dictate – from seasonal to year-round.

Yoho’s plan would force millions of Americans to compete for jobs and wages against migrants who know they will be sent home if they argue for more wages or better working conditions. The migrants’ subservient status also makes them indentured workers because the amnesty bill allows employers to offer them the hope of very valuable citizenship if they keep working despite the low pay, Jenks said.

Yoho “thinks he has got the perfect blueprint for a guest-worker amnesty program,” said Jenks:

He was quite surprised when I told him we would call his bill amnesty, but he’s invested in it [because] he’s put in a long time working on it, and he thinks it could be used to create a new guest program for construction and hospitality. We, of course, would oppose all of that.

This is the same thing [Vice President] Mike Pence did when he was in Congress and came up with his “touchback” idea. He sincerely thought it was a good idea. Once members of Congress] get so invested and personally involved, it is hard for them to stake a step back and really look at what they are doing.

Legislators can get completely disconnected from their voters, especially because the media is not interested in covering the pocketbook concerns of ordinary Americans, she said:

[Legislators] talk to their farmers, and the other employers, and they talk to Americans For Progress and the Koch brothers, and they get isolated from the voters.

It is weird world, it is a strange little bubble we’re in [partly because] I think the media is very elitist, and they see the farm economy as something they don’t have any desire to participate in, and so it is just fine for the growers to bring in a foreign labor force and exploit it. [So journalists think] ‘It is now our duty to give them amnesty, and it does not matter what happens to Americans in these fields.’

The lower-skilled, lower-wage workers are so far beneath the elitist media who care about the foreign workers that they just don’t even acknowledge the poor Americans and legal immigrant workers.

The establishment media are also ignored a pending Senate bill — Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) S.386 — that would reward many Indian graduates with salaries and citizenship of they take the white-collar jobs sought by American graduates.

The scale of the farmworker amnesty is unclear, partly because the anti-fraud measures are weak but also because advocates have been quiet about the number of illegal farmworkers and their family members. However, Mike McCloskey, a farmer and also the second vice-chairman of the National Milk Producers Federation, told Farm Journal’s Milk in November that “we believe that [the number of workers] could be in agriculture between 1 million and 2 million people.”

McCloskey added that the farm industry is split over the bill, saying that “agriculture is split on this one. I noticed the Farm Bureau has not come in in support of this. So that gives certain lawmakers and groups cover if you will not to support this bill.”

Reformers are pressuring the bill’s GOP supporters to vote against the bill by showing how the Democrats’ amnesty language allows convicted criminals to get citizenship, Jenks said. “Some of the Republicans co-sponsors are freaking out because it has been pointed out that they are letting a bunch of convicted criminals get amnesty, and they are not happy about it at all. … They are basically stuck with a bill that lets prostitutes and drug smugglers get amnesty,” she said.

The 20 GOP sponsors include several of the most business-friendly GOP leaders and several former GOP leaders in the House: Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV-02), James Baird (R-IN-04), Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05), Tom Cole (R-OK-04), John Curtis  (R-UT-03), Rodney Davis (R-IL-13), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25), Bob Gibbs (R-OH-07), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05), Paul Mitchell (R-MI-10), Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04), Devin Nunes (R-CA-22), Tom Reed (R-NY-23), Mike Simpson (R-ID-02), Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), Steve Stivers (R-OH-15), Fred Upton (R-MI-06), Greg Walden (R-OR-02), and Don Young (R-AK-At Large).

The bill is opposed by the establishment’s Heritage Foundation. “There may be problems with the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program,” Heritage said, adding, “However, the solution is to solve the problems with this program, not to pass an amnesty law that would bless the actions of aliens and agricultural employers who have ignored the law altogether.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) “does not have to vote, so I guess he won’t,” Jenks said. “I think the rest of the leadership is going to be a no vote.”

So far, McCarthy is equivocating instead of leading the opposition, she said. A December 7 report in his local newspaper, the Bakersfield Californian, included a statement from McCarthy:

Our community includes the top agricultural-producing counties in the nation, and in addition to the blessings of our resources, we must maintain a vibrant workforce to farm the land — including guest workers. This is an issue that Congress needs to address. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to find commonsense solutions that uphold the rule of law, that farmers can support and can be signed into law.

Democrats, however, might be persuaded to oppose the bill because the H-2A rules subordinate American workers to employers, she said. Her group is targeting Democrats who won the election in districts that voted for Trump in 2016:

GOP legislators “don’t seem to mind the indentured servitude, although it may be harder for some Democrats to vote for indentured servitude. … We have not given up on anybody. … We’ve got grass-roots calling all of them.”

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