Divert Caravans with Farmworker Visas?

The fourth of several occasional postings from a life-long Democrat

By David North on January 23, 2021

While Congress wrestles with the new administration's proposed massive amnesty, the new administration should take a series of smaller steps to straighten out our multiple immigration policies.

Our theme is that there are a number of things that can be done without increasing international migration or spending considerable sums of money. No one wants there to be a sudden increase in illegal immigration, but the diversion tactics that I propose to limit illicit entries by re-allocating current resources have been overlooked.

In the first of these postings, I suggested that the Diversity Visa Lottery be redesigned, not to be expanded or contracted, but to be reshuffled so that thousands of visas given to, say, residents of Uzbekistan be allocated instead to people in the Northern Triangle of Central America.

The notion is that such a program would not increase overall migration, but would convert some of the illegal migration from those three countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) to legal migration and, more importantly, keep in place substantial numbers of would-be migrants as they hoped for legal presence through the lottery.

Frankly, the current visa lottery does not make much sense, but it is unlikely to be repealed by my fellow Democrats, so let's use this lemon to make lemonade.

Today's idea is similar: Why not increase the number of farmworkers (H-2As) from the Northern Triangle by decreasing similar numbers coming from Mexico and Jamaica, nations that are not sending us growing numbers of illegals?

Big Agriculture will object, of course; they would be losing what they regard as their God-given right to hire foreign workers from whatever nation they choose. Democrats who are more comfortable with regulating the private sector to meet public goals should disregard their objections.

Switching from Mexican to Northern Triangle workers would not even mean a change in the language of the workforce, something that big growers have complained about in the past. (When I was doing farm labor tasks for the State of New Jersey, the growers objected to replacing alien Jamaicans with citizens from Puerto Rico, on the grounds that their foremen knew no Spanish. Later, when I was at the U.S. Department of Labor, and was seeking to increase the use of Black citizen workers, instead of illegals from Mexico, we heard that a different group of foremen was much more comfortable in Spanish.)

The Department of Labor should simply tell H-2A-using growers that if they limit their requests to say 95 percent of their usage in the prior year, they could recruit their workers from anywhere in the world; if they wanted more than 95 percent of their prior usage, or if they were new applicants for H-2As, they would have to recruit one-third of their workers from the Northern Triangle.

The Trump administration figured out that this diversion would be in the public interest, but did not make it mandatory, as we reported in 2019, and so nothing much happened, as the following visas issuance data shows:

H-2A Visas Issued in Mexico and
the Northern Triangle, 2018-2020

Year Mexico El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Total,
2018 182,732 144 3,849 372 4,365
2019 191,171 210 2,706 335 3,251
2020* 200,849 171 2,071 335 2,577

Source: U.S. Department of State, "Monthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics".

* Partial estimate.

In August 2019, USCIS told growers of the availability of Central American farmworkers, and encouraged them to hire from the Northern Triangle. But the notice bore no teeth and, as the table above shows, the flows of foreign farmworkers from this area actually fell while the numbers recruited in Mexico rose.

DHS will have to be firm if it wants to use the H-2A program to help ease the pressure from the caravans; it should do so.

The author is grateful to Emma Cummings for her research assistance.