Department of Labor Increases H-2A (Farmworker) Program Banishments

By David North on September 4, 2018

Here's a mildly cheering thought for Labor Day week: The U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), admittedly from a small numerical base, has moved in 2018 to banish more than twice as many bad-acting users of foreign farm labor from the H-2A program than in the comparable period the year before.

Alien farm workers, often illiterate and a long way from big-city advocacy organizations, have traditionally been exploited by many H-2A employers. When DoL catches an employer with a particularly bad record, it denies the employer use of the program from one or more years. They call it "debarment" and it happens much too rarely.

You can regard it as a measure of DoL's zeal in protecting the foreign farm workers from abuse, and for making it more likely that an employer will use U.S. rather than foreign workers.

The current debarment list shows that in the first eight months of this year, DOL has banned 22 farm employers or labor contractors (their word for crew leaders), as opposed to 10 such actions in the first eight months of last year, a more than 100 percent increase, albeit on a small base.

Some of these were crew leaders with Hispanic names (e.g., Cruz and Lopez), some were farms with Anglo names (County Fair Farm, John Hudson Farms, Inc.). Georgia had nine disbarments in the years 2016-2018, Colorado and North Carolina had seven each, and Florida, four. The 32-month total was 51.

Another encouraging sign one gets when reviewing the list is the introduction of the term "failed to comply with the employer's obligation to recruit U.S. workers" in September of last year under the "violations" heading. There were three such notes in the list, all three related to Georgia employers, two in Douglas and one in Adel. According to Wikipedia, the farmers around Douglas grow "peanuts, corn, tobacco, and cotton", crops that, historically, rarely used foreign workers.

DoL also has a debarment list for the somewhat smaller H-2B program for non-ag, non-skilled workers. It is shockingly short, bearing all of four names: two landscaping firms, one racing stable, and an industrial enterprise.

Of these, Clarke's Landscaping and Lawn Care, Inc., had the longest debarment: from November 9, 2017, to the same date in 2022, an eye-popping period of five years. The firm, based in Telford, Penn., apparently caught the eye of the department's inspector general; it referred the matter to the foreign worker program for reasons not readily available.