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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

[Congressional Record: July 10, 2001 (Senate)]
[Page S7428-S7432]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr10jy01-106]                         
 
          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 
``AgJOBS'' bill.
  We are facing a growing crisis, for both farm workers and growers.
  We want and need a stable, predictable, legal work force in American 
agriculture.
  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 
broken.
  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 
aliens.
  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 
agricultural jobs.
  Our own government estimated that half of the total 1.6 million 
agricultural work force are not legally authorized to work in this 
country.
  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 
subsequent appropriations.
  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.

[[Page S7431]]

  Finally, the grower can't even count on his or her government to do 
its job.
  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 
processing them.
  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 
supply.
  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 
the Record.
  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--
                                Summary

       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 
     legal status.
       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 
     continued.
     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 
     history.
       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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