Statement on Judiciary Committee Markup of Agricultural Guestworker Act

October 24, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DCU.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, delivered the following statement today during markup in the House Judiciary Committee of the Agriculture Guestworker Act, a Republican bill that would undercut the U.S. workforce with a low-wage guest worker program.

Statement of Rep. Zoe Lofgren

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


"Like Ranking Member Conyers, I must also begin by expressing disappointment at the evolution this bill has taken. 

"The version of the bill which was set for markup 3 weeks ago took at least one step in the right direction by providing a way for employers to sponsor a few undocumented farmworkers for legal residence.  The existing workforce has been here for a long time, they're highly skilled, and need to be stabilized.

"Now even this provision is gone. 

"Surveys indicate that at least half of U.S. farmworkers—about 1.2 million—are undocumented.  And a 2016 survey by the Department of Agriculture reveals that a massive 93% of foreign-born farmworkers have been here for at least 5 years, and 55% have been here for at least 15 years.  Many have spouses and children here. Some have grandchildren here.

"In short, for many farmworkers, the United States is their home.

"Prior bipartisan compromises recognized this fact.  Under such compromises, farmworkers and their families were afforded a reliable and meaningful path to permanent residence, while at the same time incentivizing them to remain in the agricultural sector.

"The country would benefit from a more structured and stable workforce with increasingly productive workers.  That is the best way to control illegal immigration.  To the extent that job opportunities are secured by legal workers in a more stable labor market with increased earnings for farmworkers through longer periods of employment, the "pull" factor for unlawful immigration is reduced.

"It is also worth noting that those compromises did not just have bipartisan support in both houses.  They were widely supported by stakeholders across the ag sector, including farmers large and small, fruit and vegetable producers, dairy farmers, sheepherders, beekeepers, landscaping, and farm bureaus throughout the country.

"Instead of stabilizing this workforce, the AG Act would further destabilize and impoverish it.  Yes, the bill provides undocumented workers with the opportunity to obtain temporary guestworker status.  But that status does not extend to family members.  It requires that the worker frequently leave and remain outside the country.  And it makes the worker completely dependent on their employers for the mere chance to return to their families and homes. 

"This isn't a realistic avenue for people who have developed deep roots in the country after living here for decades.  While I understand the motivation behind the effort, it just won't work.

"What I really don't understand is the motivation for other parts of the bill.  The main component of the bill is the creation of a new program that initially allows employers to bring in 450,000 new workers per year.  This cap can increase every year depending on program usage.  And because the visas are good for up to 3 years, the numbers of guestworkers in the United States would likely far exceed that cap.  Under the program, millions of guestworkers would be in the United States at the same time.

"Now you don't normally hear Members on my side of the aisle complain about immigrants taking American jobs.  That's because in the free market, immigrants tend to complement U.S. workers, rather than compete directly against them.  Although there are sometimes short-term negative effects, economists across the board conclude that immigrants help to grow the economy, while increasing wages and opportunities for all U.S. workers over the long term

"That's in a free market. But this bill appears designed to ensure that employers can easily displace their current workers with significantly cheaper foreign labor.  Importantly, guestworker programs like the one in the bill do not follow free market principles.  The workers have no meaningful opportunity to negotiate their wages, nor can they freely switch employers.

"This is why current guestworker programs use wage systems that are pegged to going wages in the relevant occupation and geographic area.  And contrary to Chairman Goodlatte's comment, this is not some bureaucratic imposition, this is a result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture doing a wage-rate survey based on the wages actually paid by farmers. Given that foreign workers don't have the negotiating power of U.S. workers; these wage systems are the only way to ensure that foreign workers can't be used to displace American workers.

"This bill has no system.  It simply creates – I would ask for an additional minute. As Mr. Conyers had pointed out, it eliminates the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and allows for the deduction of transit fees and the like. It could end up paying wages that are less than the minimum wage - including in forestry, because it includes not temporary traditional Ag workers but forestry, a full-time job that pays $20-22 an hour.

"As currently written this bill would authorize employers to bring in an army of guestworkers to do battle with U.S. workers across various sectors of our economy. This bill is a travesty and I hope we will defeat it."

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