United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice, and other immigrant rights advocates are opposing a GOP-led migrant guest worker proposal that “would gut protections for workers, substantially lower wages for migrants, and expose even more workers to exploitation.” The bill’s Republican author is suspect enough: in the past, he’s sought to turbo-boost Donald Trump’s mass deportation force by hiring thousands more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and them arming them with “M-4 rifles or equivalents”:
The latest attempt is a bill by Virginia Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and one of the biggest proponents of reforming the H-2A. The bill,which narrowly cleared the committee last Wednesday, would overhaul the current guest worker program and replace it with a new H-2C visa for bringing in foreign agricultural workers to the US. In contrast to the current H2-A visa, the new program, called the Agricultural Guestworker
, would cap the number of visas at 450,000 a year, and allow workers to be able to stay year-round, while eliminating the requirement that employers provide free housing and transportation.
According to Mother Jones, more than 70 percent of farm workers currently in the U.S. are immigrants, and of those, nearly one-half are undocumented. Goodlatte could take steps to begin humane reforms by supporting the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017—which would put undocumented farm workers on a path to citizenship—but instead he’s putting his weight behind a bill that Adrienne DerVartanian of Farmworker Justice has called “a recipe for worker exploitation”:
The H-2C notably cuts back on previous H-2A provisions, no longer requiring employers to provide free transportation and housing for workers. Wages would also be calculated based off a percentage of the federal or state minimum wage, rather than prevailing wages, and would not include an AEWR. The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, says that this would undoubtedly lower wages for both US and migrant workers, estimating that most workers in the H-2C program would be paid around $8.34 an hour, or $334 a week.
Employers would also withhold 10 percent of a worker’s wages and deposit them into a fund only available in a US embassy or consulate in the worker’s home country, as a way to guarantee workers return home. Workers would be barred from using federal legal aid for filing complaints against employers.
DerVartanian: “The proposed legislation would slash workers’ wages; eliminate key wage protections; order employers to withhold 10 percent of workers’ wages as a form of bond; and shift the costs of housing and transportation to the workers—all of which would compound the economic coercion workers already face.”