Senator Craig's AgJOBS Amnesty—Feeding AgriBusiness' Cheap Labor Addiction

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) is staking his career on the stalled AgJOBS bill—the measure that will give three million illegal farmworkers temporary work permits and a chance to hit the jackpot: American citizenship.

In an October 8th speech on the Senate floor, he spoke brazenly in support of the bill that, by his own admission, "nobody wants to deal with."

Craig nevertheless threatened to continue to bring his AgJOBS bill up for a vote until he succeeded.

Said Craig about the millions of aliens who would eventually be amnestied by AgJOBS,

"By their presence, they better us. They make our lives better, and in this issue with American agriculture, there is no question, they help to produce the abundance on the supermarket shelves and the family tables of America.

Apparently, the motto for the immigration enthusiasts is, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead."

I was struck by the timing of Craig's diatribe. One week earlier, the University of California at Davis hosted a daylong seminar to review the "provisions" and "likely implementation issues" of AgJOBS.

The most interesting thing about the much-heralded "AgJOBS and Immigration Reform Conference," as it was billed, is that in reality it was a gathering of immigration lawyers and brazen subversives.

Among the featured speakers who traveled a mighty long way from Washington DC were:



Also featured were local advocates:


  • U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-Cal). Berman, a co-sponsor of AgJOBS. Berman has supported legislation that favors illegal aliens thirty times since 1999.

One of the event sponsors was the Rosenberg Foundation, which lists as its priority

"Projects designed to achieve change in public social policy regarding immigrant integration through employment, language access and immigrant rights."

Goldstein, summarizing how his coalition views AgJOBS, alleges that it is important to reward "unauthorized immigrants" by creating an "earned legalization" program:

"Applicants could obtain a temporary immigration status by proving that they been employed in U.S. agriculture in the recent past either as a legal guest worker or as an undocumented worker. If the temporary resident then performs a specified amount of agricultural work, during a three to six year period, he or she could convert to lawful permanent resident status and receive a 'green card.' Security checks would prevent terrorists, criminals and other unwanted individuals from using the program. The farm worker's spouse and minor children also would eventually become eligible to be immigrants." [Farmworkers Deserve Immigration Solutions, Not Excuses, October 4, 2004, By Bruce Goldstein]

Further, Goldstein argues that,

"Some object to AgJOBS saying that people who crossed our borders illegally should not be 'rewarded' with an 'amnesty.' AgJOBS is not an 'amnesty.' It contains tough, multi-year work requirements to earn immigration status.

And finally that,

"These farm workers already live and work in the United States; this nation has not been willing, and is not going, to deport them."

Oh yeah? It remains to be seen whether the U.S. can summon the will to deport illegal aliens. And Goldstein's position has several flaws.

  • First and most obviously, AgJOBS is an amnesty. How else can you define a program wherein people enter the US illegally but then are offered a path to citizenship?

  • Secondly, how "tough" really are the work requirements that lead to amnesty? To qualify, a worker must prove 100 days of agricultural employment in the 18-month period that ended Aug. 31, 2003. Then, prior to receiving amnesty, workers would have to show 360 days of additional farm work over the next six years.

That translates to roughly sixty working days per year.

"We have an immigration system that is totally overwhelmed with millions of transactions that they don't seriously oversee. AgJOBS would add millions more transactions to that work overload. Who believes that each of these amnestied workers would truly be screened when that isn't happening for the legal entrants already in the queue?

"We need to be removing work from DHS to get better security, not adding to it."

Here are a few points that Goldstein conveniently overlooked:

  • The U.S. has never demonstrated the slightest ability to administer any immigration or non-immigrant visa program. All previous amnesties have resulted in abuse and fraud. The AgJOBS bill would be more of the same.

  • Amnesties beget amnesties. Since 1986, Congress has passed seven amnesties. Currently, eight bills are pending that could become the next amnesty.

Instead of constantly debating about how to fairly treat these long-suffering and exploited workers, we should instead be focused on eliminating the need for laborers—by moving more rapidly toward agricultural mechanization.

This week I spoke with Galen K. Brown, a co-author of a December 2000 Center for Immigration Studies Report titled "Alternatives to Immigrant Labor? The Status of Fruit and Vegetable Harvest Mechanization in the United States."

I asked Brown, recently retired from the Florida Department of Citrus, if the US had made any progress on mechanization since his paper was published.

"Very little," he replied. "Almost no research and development work on mechanization has been done by either states or the federal government. It has been left to the growers who cannot afford to do it."

"Hand labor is not the long term solution but automation is. Growers could cut costs and workers would earn a living wage. Yet nothing has happened," Brown concluded.

Impressive statistics published in Rural Migration News that support Brown's conclusions. Mechanization means less reliance on manual labor and, in the long run, lower costs to growers.

After talking with Brown, I realized even more clearly how misguided Craig and his Congressional colleagues are.

For the sake of the growers, the workers and the consumers, Congress should rearrange its priorities to emphasize funding farm mechanization research instead of promoting endless amnesties.

A shift away from repeated amnesties and guest worker programs driven by Congress and special interest groups would create agricultural conditions that are truly, to use Craig's own words from his Senate speech, "safe, productive and economically beneficial".

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.