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Statement of the Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman

                                            Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims

                                               House Committee on the Judiciary

                                  Hearing on H.R. 4548, the "Agricultural Opportunities Act"

                                                        June 15, 2000

The growers of fruits, vegetables, and specialty crops rely heavily on hired farm workers because their produce is harvested and packed by hand. Their labor costs

are higher than those of grain farmers and other producers who use mechanical harvesting and packing machines.

The growers rely on seasonal hiring that employs millions of workers annually. Most of this labor is required during relatively brief harvest times. Thus, the growers

rely upon a large, flexible, and readily available seasonal work force.

 More than two-thirds of the growers' seasonal work force is foreign-born. Many of these workers, perhaps even a majority, are illegal aliens.

Seasonal farm workers work for lower wages and working conditions than most other workers in the United States. They generally do not make more than $7 or $8

an hour for work that is very physically demanding. Farm worker advocates argue that they are under-compensated because of their immigration status. Growers

respond that their wages are fair and could not be raised without impairing the growers' ability to compete with imported produce.

The H-2A guest worker program allows aliens to enter the United States to perform seasonal agricultural labor. To obtain H-2A workers a grower must certify to

the Labor Department that it has taken steps to recruit American workers, but there are none available, and that using alien labor will not adversely affect American workers. 

The grower must also provide assurances that it will provide specific wages, transportation, housing, and other benefits to its H-2A workers. The Labor Department is supposed to approve H-2A workers within 60 days after the grower's application is filed.

The H-2A program has grown substantially in recent years but still provides fewer than 40,000 workers per year, a small fraction of the total work force. Growers

argue that the Labor Department administers the program in a bureaucratic, cumbersome, and often adversarial manner, imposing unnecessary costs and sometimes failing to provide needed workers in time.

 Growers also maintain that farm worker advocates employ strategic harassment and litigation against them to discourage use of the H-2A program. Farm worker

advocates reply that the H-2A program is underutilized because growers prefer to employ illegal aliens who will accept substandard wages and working conditions.

 H.R. 4548, the "Agricultural Opportunities Act," has been introduced by Representative Pombo of California, who will be our first witness today. And he continuesto be a congressional leader on the subject of agricultural guest workers.

 Our witnesses today were chosen because they bring a variety of relevant perspectives to a complex set of issues. Their contributions will help provide a balanced and thorough legislative hearing.

 


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