by Senator Larry Craig
Our federal government has got to do better, faster, in improving our border security and meeting the growing problem of illegal immigration. That is why Congress is beefing up the border patrol and buying high-tech verification systems for the Department of Homeland Security. That is why the House of Representatives attached national drivers’ license standards and asylum changes to the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill.
That is why I’ve worked on an amendment to that bill to increase border security, hire more investigators and enforcement agents, and boost resources for detention. That is why I’m cosponsoring a bill to help states deal with undocumented criminal aliens.
And that is why I’ve worked to bring the AgJOBS bill — the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and Security Act — to the Senate floor.
An enforcement-only policy doesn’t work. Why?
The United States has 7,458 miles of land borders and 88,600 miles of tidal shoreline. We can secure those frontiers well, but not perfectly. As we have stepped up border enforcement, we have locked undocumented immigrants in this country at least as effectively as we have locked any out.
With an estimated 10 million undocumented persons in the United States, to find them and flush them out of homes, schools, churches, and work places would mean an intrusion on the civil liberties of Americans that they will not tolerate. We fought our revolution, in part, over troops at our doors and in our homes.
History has shown us what does work: A coupling of more secure borders, better internal enforcement, and a guest worker program that faces up to economic reality.
The only experience our country has had with a legal farm guest worker program — used widely in the 1950s but repealed in the 1960s — taught us valuable lessons. While it was criticized on other grounds, that program dramatically reduced illegal immigration from high levels to almost nothing, while meeting labor market needs.
AgJOBS is a groundbreaking, necessary part of this balanced, realistic approach. American agriculture has boldly stepped forward and admitted the problem. AgJOBS is a critical part of the solution.
Agriculture is the sector of the economy for which the problem is the worst. Fifty to 75 percent of farm workers are undocumented. As internal enforcement has stepped up, family farms are going out of business because they cannot find legal workers.
Whatever the case is in other industries, in agriculture, we really are talking about jobs that Americans can’t or won’t take. This physically demanding labor is seasonal and migrant in nature. Few Americans can or will leave home and family behind, to travel from state to state, crop to crop, for only part of the year, living in temporary structures. The planting, growing, and harvesting seasons occur at different times in different states — usually when students are not available.
To the extent wages are an issue, AgJOBS is part of the solution. Legal workers can demand a living wage and assert legal rights that undocumented workers — smuggled into the country and kept “underground” — cannot.
For the long term, AgJOBS reforms the profoundly broken H-2A program that is supposed to provide legal, farm guest workers. It is now so bureaucratic and burdensome, it admits only about 40,000 workers a year — 2 to 3 percent of farm workers.
As a bridge to stabilize the work force while H-2A reforms are being implemented, AgJOBS includes a one-time-only earned adjustment program, to let about 500,000 trusted farm workers, with a proven, substantial work history here, continue working here, legally. The permanent H-2A reforms would make future farm worker adjustments unnecessary.
AgJOBS is not amnesty or a reward for illegal behavior. Requiring several years of demanding, physical labor in the fields is an opportunity to rehabilitate to legal status — to earn the adjustment to legal status. In addition, adjusting AgJOBS workers would have to meet a higher standard of good behavior than other, legal immigrants, in the future. AgJOBS workers, both adjusting and H-2A, would be free to leave the country at the end of the work season and not be “locked in” the country, between jobs.
Finally, with background checks, AgJOBS would let American families know who is putting the food on our tables — yet another boost for homeland security.