CONGRESSWOMAN SHEILA JACKSON LEE
H.R. 4548, the "AGRICULTURAL OPPORTUNITIES ACT"
JUNE 15, 2000
Thank-you Mr. Chairman for calling this very important hearing today. The debate surrounding the agricultural guest worker program is not a new one. There has
been debate about this program since its inception, and the issue resurfaced in 1996 in the form of the Pombo amendment. That amendment if passed, would have
modified the current temporary agriculture worker program by creating a three-year alternative pilot program that would ahve enable employers to hire temporary
and seasonal workers for no more that 10 months at a time. The amendment would have phased out the current H-2A guest worker program. I voted no on the
Pombo amendment in 1996 for the same reasons that I oppose this bill as written in its current form.
Under current law, an agricultural employer who anticipates a labor shortage for seasonal jobs may apply for a labor certification from the Department of Labor. An
"H-2A labor certification entitles employers to obtain temporary visas for foreign workers who are tied to one employer and do not acquire immigration status.
The H-2A program, which began during World War II, and was revised in 1986, contains modest protections against displacement of U.S. workers, exploitation of
vulnerable guestworkers, and depression in wage rates and working conditions caused by the hiring of undocumented workers and guestworkers.
H.R. 4548 would establish a new agricultural guestworker
or "H-2C program by creating a new "H-2C temporary foreign agricultural worker pilot program. This bill is problematic because it would remove or weaken major
protections in longstanding guestworker programs and it would harm the agricultural labor market for generations into the future.
Unfortunately, agricultural workers remain one of the most disadvantaged groups of workers in the United States, working in hazardous conditions for low wages,
living in substandard housing, and lacking labor protections available to nearly all other workers in the United States. While many farmworkers are citizens and legal
immigrants, a substantial portion are unauthorized workers.
I do however agree with the agriculture growers when they say that the H-2A program needs to be reformed. U.S. growers should not have to either violate the law
by hiring illegal workers or go through complicated and expensive legal proceses to bring in foreign agricultural workers. However, these U.S. farmworkers deserve
better pay, living and working conditions by the grower industry.
This bill H.R. 4548, eliminates important worker protections and this unacceptable.