HUENNEKENS: Congress Wants To Legalize 1.5 Million Farmworkers; America Can’t Afford it

Reuters, Stephane Mahe.

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A group of representatives wants to give more than 1.5 million illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship. However, the American people do not want — and cannot afford — an amnesty of this magnitude.

Led by Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, 53 representatives have sponsored the ironically titled Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 5038. It is ironically titled because it does nothing to modernize our agricultural workforce, or this vital industry. Instead of guiding our agricultural industry into the future, it relies on failed strategies of the past.

This legislation’s primary goal is to legalize every illegal alien farmworker in the United States by issuing them “conditional agricultural worker” (CAW) permits. These permits come with caveats though, essentially tying these migrant farmworkers to the land as indentured servants. Those with more than 10 years of (illegal) employment in the U.S. must labor for an additional four years under CAW status. Those with less than ten years of service must work an additional eight years as CAW laborers.

But what happens when all of the CAW laborers fulfill the terms of their bargain? With a green card in hand, are they going to stay on the farms? Absolutely not. These workers will be free to work in any industry they choose. No longer tied to agriculture, they will find better-paying employment. Farmers will see their CAW workforce shrink. What will they do then? They will return to the status quo — and hire new illegal aliens perpetuating an endless cycle.

This is precisely the failed scenario that played out 30 years ago. The fraud-ridden Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) amnesty that was appended to a broader amnesty program in 1986, legalized some 1.1 million people. No sooner did these workers receive their work permits, they abandoned the harsh working conditions and lousy pay in agriculture for greener pastures in other sectors of the labor market. In the words of Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

While this bill does offer a watered-down form of E-Verify, it will only come after the farmworker amnesty and it will only apply to agriculture. This is a typical bargaining pattern from Big Ag: amnesty now, enforcement later — if ever.

That is why nothing about this bill modernizes the workforce. It merely delays the inevitable. Real modernization would bring farming into the 21st century by encouraging investment in and adoption of labor-saving automation. Researchers from Washington State University and the Technical University of Munich argued in 2018 that “labor-saving technologies in agriculture have been fundamental to the advancement of the agricultural industry, and in general, the economies of nations.”

Why, then, have America’s agricultural giants refused to change their labor model? Why do they continually avoid the need to invest and adopt this technology? Simply, because it costs money and because they see no reason to change. From their vantage point, there will always be illegal aliens willing to work on the farms for less than Americans with no fuss. The agriculture giants already have an unlimited visa program for farmworkers which they refuse to use because it is cheaper to hire illegal aliens.

A true Farm Workforce Modernization Act would help farmers adopt this technology through federal and state funding and programs. Cutting down on illegal alien labor would save the federal and state governments billions of dollars. Encouraging mechanization and automation in the farming sector would cost a fraction of that amount.

Agricultural automation is the future of farming, and it is time for Congress to leave farmworker amnesties in the past.

Preston Huennekens is a government relations associate with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for reduced immigration and an end to illegal immigration.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.