S. 744 Would Eliminate Modest Existing Benefits for Some Groups of Aliens

By David North on May 21, 2013

One of the ironic glories, or better described, horrors, of S.744, is the vast array of different, usually powerless, populations who are hurt by its provisions.

The powerful, egged on by the greedy, have designed the bill to meet their various wants with little regard for the impact of the provisions on largely silent populations.

Most of these victims are run-of-the-mill U.S. residents, mostly citizens; the people who either will lose jobs, or lose wages because of the arrival of foreign workers through various channels created by the Senate's Gang of Eight. Then, too, there are the taxpayers who will unwittingly be paying more for decades because of the fiscal burdens created by the legalization parts of S.744.

But there are also cases in which groups of aliens will lose out because of the work of those eight senators, and, to my knowledge, no one has spoken up for them, or even acknowledged their plight; and the Gang of Eight is supposed to be pro-immigrant.

There are, for instance, the aliens who now come to the United States annually under the current H-2A provisions, temporary foreign farm workers. While the H-2A program is usually regarded, and correctly so, by restrictionists as a highly questionable scheme designed to make life easier and costs lower for agribusiness corporations while depriving U.S. workers of farm jobs, it is also something else.

H-2A is, compared to what both houses of Congress are contemplating in terms of a non-immigrant farm worker program, a program that affords mild worker protections to some 85,000 workers each year. Most of them are from Mexico The states using the largest numbers of them are North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, Louisiana, and Florida and the specific crops using the largest numbers of H-2As are tobacco, oranges, cotton, and onions.

Many growers, however, who want minimal government supervision, chafe over some of the Department of Labor's regulations and they are behind the dueling Senate and House proposals, each seeking to provide many more nonimmigrant workers and fewer regulations. Both of these proposals will make the H-2A program look like a decent, forward-looking activity.

While the details of these proposals — part of the catch-all S.744 in the Senate and the more narrow H.R.1773 on the other side of the Capitol — are of some interest, one central fact is that both propose programs to replace the current H-2A program and thus end the minimalistic protections now extended to these 85,000 nonimmigrant farm workers. For a quick statistical overview of this population, see this bland Department of Labor document.

Is anyone speaking for those 85,000 aliens — who were all admitted legally to the United States in the last fiscal year?

No one. Absolutely no one.

So it is not just the citizen farm workers and the green carder holders whose voices are not heard, it is the legal nonimmigrant (H-2A) farm workers as well.

My sense, and I worked on this issue for the U.S. Secretary of Labor some decades ago, is that Cesar Chavez' old union, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), is so wedded to the idea of legalizing some of their farm worker members, that it has entered into a deal with the growers to support S.744 — a deal with the devil — rather than fight for the economic interests of their own members generally. That bill has provisions for legalizing the currently illegal farm workers with blue cards, as discussed in an earlier blog, and it creates a new, larger, and, in my eyes, more exploitative non-immigrant worker program. The numerical limits for the new program would grow from 112,333 workers initially to as many as 337,000 five years later, if the bill is passed.

I can see why the UFW might support the blue card part of the bill, but it is mind-blowing for the union to accept a bigger temporary alien farm worker program, and a worse one, than H-2A.

Chavez' successor at the UFW, Arturo S. Rodriguez, presented this tepid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 22; for a summary of the more recent House hearing on roughly the same subject, see this report by the pro-farm worker Farmworker Justice organization.