[Congressional Record: July 10, 2001 (Senate)]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Mr. CRAIG (for himself, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Cochran, Mr. Enzi,
Mr. Burns, Mr. Frist, and Mr. Hutchinson):
S. 1161. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to
streamline procedures for the admission and extension of stay of
nonimmigrant agricultural workers; to provide a stable, legal,
agricultural work force; to extend basic legal protections and better
working conditions to more workers; to provide for a system of one-time
earned adjustment to legal status for certain agricultural workers; and
for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I am pleased to have joined several
colleagues this week in introducing a new, improved version of the
Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act, the
We are facing a growing crisis, for both farm workers and growers.
We want and need a stable, predictable, legal work force in American
Willing American workers deserve a system that puts them first in
line for available jobs with fair, market wages. We want all workers to
receive decent treatment and equal protection under the law.
Consumers deserve a safe, stable, domestic food supply.
American citizens and taxpayers deserve secure borders and a
government that works.
Yet Americans are being threatened on all these counts, because of a
growing labor shortage in agriculture, while the only program currently
in place to respond, the H-2A Guest Worker Program, is profoundly
The problem is only growing worse. Therefore, we are introducing a
new, improved bill. The name of the bill says it all--``AgJOBS''.
Our farm workers need this reform bill.
There is no debate about whether many, or most, farm workers are
They are. And they will be, for the foreseeable future. The question
is whether they will be here legally or illegally.
Immigrants not legally authorized to work in this country know they
must work in hiding.
They cannot even claim basic legal rights and protections. They are
vulnerable to predation and exploitation. They sometimes have been
stuffed inhumanly into dangerously enclosed truck trailers and car
trunks, in order to be transported, hidden from the view of the law.
In fact, they have been known to pay ``coyotes'', labor smugglers,
$1,000 and more to be smuggled into this country.
In contrast, legal workers have legal protections.
They can assert wage, safety, and other legal protections. They can
bargain openly and join unions. H-2A workers, in fact, are even
guaranteed housing and transportation.
Clearly, the status quo is broken.
Domestic American workers simply are not being found to fill
Our own government estimated that half of the total 1.6 million
agricultural work force are not legally authorized to work in this
That estimate is probably low; it's based on self-disclosure by
illegal workers to government interviewers.
Some actually have suggested that there is no labor shortage, because
there are plenty of illegal workers. This is not an acceptable answer.
Congress has shown its commitment over the past few years to improve
the security of our borders, both in the 1996 immigration law and in
Between computerized checking by the Social Security Administration
and audits and raids by the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
more and more employers are discovering they have undocumented
employees; and more and more workers here illegally are being
discovered and evicted from their jobs.
Outside of H-2A, employers have no reliable assurance that their
employees are legal.
It's worse than a Catch-22, the law actually punishes the employer
who could be called ``too diligent'' in inquiring into the
identification documents of prospective workers.
The H-2A status quo is slow, bureaucratic, and inflexible. It does
nothing to recognize the uncertainties farmers face, from changes in
the weather to global market demands.
The H-2A status quo is complicated and legalistic. DOL's compliance
manual alone is 325 pages.
The current H-2A process is so hard to use, it will place only about
40,000 legal guest workers this year, 2 to 3 percent of the total
agricultural work force.
Finally, the grower can't even count on his or her government to do
A General Accounting Office study found that, in more than 40 percent
of the cases in which employers filed H-2A applications at least 60
days before the date of need, the DOL missed statutory deadlines in
The solution we need is the AgJOBS Act of 2001.
This is win-win legislation.
It will elevate and protect the rights, working conditions, and
safety of workers. It will help workers, first domestic American
workers, then other workers already here, then foreign guest workers,
find the jobs they want and need.
It will assure growers of a stable, legal supply of workers, within a
program that recognizes market realities. The adjusted-worker
provisions also will give growers one-time assistance in adjusting to
the new labor market realities of the 21st Century.
It will assure all Americans of a safe, consistent, affordable food
The nation needs AgJOBS. I invite the rest of my colleagues to join
us as cosponsors; and I urge the Senate and the House to act promptly
to enact this legislation into law.
I ask unanimous consent that a summary of this bill be included in
There being no objection, the summary was ordered to be printed in
the Record, as follows:
The Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, & Security Act of 2001--
AgJOBS II is legislation reforming the current, cumbersome
H-2A agricultural guest worker program and, for non-H-2A
agricultural workers, creating a program in which farmworkers
now in the U.S. without legal documentation could adjust to
This bill builds on the significant progress made last
year, in legislation, hearings, and extensive discussions
among Members of Congress, the Administration, and the
agriculture community. This new bill chooses from among the
best ideas in similar legislation introduced in the 106th
Congress (S. 1814, the original Agricultural Job Opportunity,
Benefits, and Security Act (AgJOBS)) and other proposals and
ideas discussed before and since.
Enactment of H-2A reform and adjustment of status
legislation is critically important to the continued health
of American agriculture. Reform is needed to provide a
stable, legal workforce and to extend basic legal protections
and better conditions to more workers.
According to the federal government's own estimates, about
half of our 1.6 million agriculture work force is not legally
authorized to work here. This is certain to be a low
estimate, because it is based upon self-disclosure by illegal
workers to government interviewers.
Highlights of reforms to the H-2A program
American workers should have the first opportunity to hold
American jobs. When enough domestic farmworkers are not
available for upcoming work, growers currently are required
to go through a lengthy and uncertain process of
demonstrating that fact to the satisfaction of the federal
government. A GAO study found that, under the current system,
the Department of Labor misses processing deadlines 40
percent of the time, which increases costly delays and
discourages use of the program.
The new bill would replace the current quagmire with a
streamlined ``attestation'' process like the one now used for
H-1B high-tech workers, speeding up certification of H-2A
employers and the hiring of guest workers.
The new bill sets the prevailing wage as the standard,
minimum wage for guest workers admitted under the H-2A
program, instead of the unrealistic ``premium'' wage
currently mandated on H-2A employers (called the Adverse
Economic Wage Rate), that often combines completely
dissimilar worker categories in computing one wage rate.
Participating employers would continue to furnish housing
and transportation for H-2A workers. Other current H-2A labor
protections for both H-2A and domestic workers would be
Highlights of the new status adjustment program
To qualify for adjustment to legal status, an incumbent
worker must have worked in the United States in agriculture
for at least 150 days in any 12-month period in the last 18
months. (The average non-casual farm worker works 150 days a
year.) The bill creates a one-time adjustment opportunity,
only for experienced and valued workers who are already in
the United States by July 4, 2001.
To earn adjustment of status and the right to stay and work
legally in the United States, a qualified worker must
continue to work in U.S. agriculture at least 150 days a
year, in each of 4 of the next 6 years.
During this 4-6 year period, the adjusting worker would
have non-immigrant status and would be required to return to
his or her home country for at least 2 months a year, unless
he or she is the parent of a child born in the United States
(i.e., a U.S. citizen), gainfully employed, actively seeking
employment, or prevented by a serious medical condition from
returning home. The worker may also work in another industry,
as long as the agriculture work requirement is satisfied. The
worker would have to check in once a year with the INS to
verify compliance with the law and report his or her work
Upon completion of the status adjustment program, the
adjusted worker would be eligible for legal permanent
resident status. Considering the time elapsed from when a
worker first applies to enter the adjustment process, this
gives adjusting workers no advantage over regular immigrants
beginning the legal immigration process at the same time.
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