The House Judiciary Committee approved two bills Wednesday: Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) bill replacing and expanding the current foreign farm worker program (HR 4092) and Rep. Lamar Smith's Legal Workforce Act (HR 3711), which would require use of E-Verify by all businesses.
The farm worker bill was approved by a single vote, and only after the adoption of several amendments designed to narrow the program.
The Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act) would, as we reported earlier, replace the current H-2A foreign farm labor program with a brand new and considerably less restrictive H-2C program.
The vote on the farm worker bill was 17 for the measure and 16 against. Most of the Republicans voted with the ag employers in favor. All 14 of the Democrats present opposed it, on fairness to farm worker issues, and were joined by two Republicans, worried about expanding migration needlessly: Steve King (R-Iowa) and Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), both immigration skeptics. (The E-Verify bill passed on a straight party-line vote of 20-10, a different vote total because members come and go during these work sessions.)
The farm worker bill had been marked up (i.e., amended) in a series of votes, with several of the changes being made toward lessening the negative impact on American workers. These amendments called for, among other things:
- Dropping the numerical cap from 500,000 to 450,000;
- Making sure that the H-2C workers have health insurance;
- Eliminating an earlier provision setting aside some green cards for experienced foreign farm workers; and
- Making it harder for currently illegal alien farm workers to convert to H-2C status.