Dept. of Labor Loses Migration Enforcement Funds to USDA

By David North on February 15, 2012

In keeping with the loss of immigration enforcement funds in the new budget, as shown in my colleague, Jessica Vaughan's blog on the ICE budget and my own posting yesterday on the DHS budget generally, there's been a largely overlooked sleight of hand in the Department of Labor's proposed budget that works in the same (sad) direction.

First, let's note the relative size of the two budgets of the departments of Labor (DoL) and Agriculture (USDA); the former will get about $12 billion this year, and the latter about $24 billion. Next, let's notice the relative sizes of the cuts to be experienced by the two departments; Labor's relatively little budget is to be cut 10 percent, and Agriculture's bigger one is to be reduced by 4 percent.

Historically, the two departments have shared in the cost of the annual farm labor wage survey that helps set the wage levels for temporary foreign farmworkers in the H-2A (nonimmigrant) program. It is a $4 million-a-year item, and a necessary one.

DoL, over the years, has paid some attention to the enforcement of the foreign farm labor program, helping to reduce the exploitation therein. USDA does not deal with such issues, and tends to identify with growers, not workers. (I had a first-hand view of both agencies when I worked in the Secretary of Labor's office on farm labor issues, many years ago.)

So, how does the Obama administration plan to fund the farm labor survey this year? It proposes, and Congress is unlikely to correct this, that the whole $4 million be charged to the Department of Labor, giving USDA a $2 million windfall.

This will reduce moneys that could have been spent – and should be spent – by Labor in enforcing the rules in foreign worker programs. Enforcement generally means a more equitable program, and a fairer program reduces employers' appetites for expanding their use of foreign workers, thus helping resident workers.

For documentation see page ETA-9 of the proposed DoL budget, with ETA standing for the Employment and Training Administration, the agency that houses the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC).

On the surface OFLC's proposed budget of some $65.5 million looks flat, hiding, in the summary tables, the $2 million loss to the Department of Agriculture.

These dollar figures are not large for Washington, but it is a continuing reminder of how this administration is undercutting immigration law enforcement, whenever and wherever it can.