Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On Migrant Farmworkers ETA-2008-0001-0832

Docket: ETA-2008-0001
Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Aliens in the United States; Modernizing the Labor Certification Process and Enforcement
Comment On: ETA-2008-0001-0001
Tracking No. 804f8d52
Document: ETA-2008-0001-0832

General Comment

My own failed attempt to join the ranks of domestic migrant farmworkers aroused my interest in the very real problems surrounding this almost mythical population group and the attachment is the result of a modicum of thinking and reading about the broader context of my personal experience, which can be summarized thus: in seasonal farmwork domestic laborers find themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage to more docile H2-As.
In considering the proposed new rules I shall focus on general theoretical flaws with which this document is replete, that effectively ensure that its scope and aim are misguided. It distorts notions and capitalizes on false yet convenient and therefore widespread assumptions which lead to harmful results, both theoretical and empirical. Although its very title labels it as “modernizing” the proposed rule continues the time-honored practice established since the New Deal of excluding agricultural workers from the standard measures of labor rights and protection; less obviously, but no less perniciously, it relies on arguments whose spirit can be traced back to much older and wholly indefensible thought-patterns.

Comments of a Taxpayer

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, to modernize means to “adapt to modern needs, taste, or usage”. The only item in the entire proposed rule that conforms to this definition is that in the future employers will be encouraged to process the temporary labor certification on line. All other changes are in keeping with the tradition established with the New Deal legislation, of scrupulously excluding farm workers from many of the important labor protections. Modernizing the regulations concerned with agricultural employment would entail bringing them in line with the current regulations applicable to other economic sectors. Short of this, the very title of the document is a purple misnomer, that merely confuses while it decorates.

The proposed changes, rather than touching upon the fundamental aspects of the problems familiar throughout the history of legislation aimed at improving the lot of MSFW are, save one, beneficial to employers and detrimental to farm workers. The lone exception is wholly inconsequential and I shall address it first.

Additional and expanded recruiting requirements

The underlying premise of the alleged need for temporary alien agricultural workers is summed up in Secretary Chao’s words: “There simply are not enough U.S. workers to fill the hundreds of thousands of agricultural jobs that are available in this country.” Far from new, this is merely a restatement of the growers’ historic claims, well documented since the Reconstruction, and as unsubstantiated now as it has always been; conversely, the growers’ motivation to ensure an oversupply of laborers is also well documented. Indeed, if the shortage of domestic workers was true, there would be no need to include protections for the unwilling domestic workers.

Although demonstrably untrue, the claim has been so often, unquestioningly, repeated that journalists hardly can write a sentence about foreign farm laborers not followed by the dog-like clause “because domestic workers are unwilling to take these jobs”. The message, that growers would gladly hire domestic workers, if only they were willing to to sign up, becomes almost axiomatic.

Before examining the new and improved recruiting requirements, let us contemplate an instance of how the old and tried ones work, as I had the opportunity to experience first hand. Wanting to embrace the Simple Life, I assumed that given the chronic and permanently threatening shortage of harvest labor there must be a plethora of jobs in states such as Florida and as a prospective domestic worker I would be welcomed by all farmers who resort to the use of foreign labor only as a dire last resort. I expected an embarrassment of riches. Pondering whether picking tomatoes would be more or less rewarding than picking oranges, and unable to make up my mind, I decided to let the employers’ offers lure me to the most enticing job. At the Fort Lauderdale Public Library I asked about the resources for prospective harvesters. The starry-eyed reference librarian confessed ignorance. I was quite sure that somewhere there must be a thick binder, or even better, an endless online listing of jobs openings, and that this one information expert was simply uninformed. A second staff person, of a riper age, after giving me a long non-judgmental look from behind thick glasses, suggested that I consult the Work Force One web site. Work Force One has been contractually hired by the SWA to provide job placement services in the Fort Lauderdale area. Its web site was not very easy to navigate, but I used to be a seasoned researcher in my day and managed to find one (let me repeat with quiet force: ONE) job under the heading “farm labor”. It announced the opportunity of picking tomatoes in 33 positions at an undisclosed Private Sector establishment near Myakka City, FL US. This was also my first encounter with the as of yet mysterious “H2-A” program. The posting stipulated no minimum age, test, education or prior experience requirements, stating that

“workers must be physically able to work in hot, humid weather as well as cold weather in Winter [sic], with requisite physical strength and endurance to repeat the picking process rapidly, working skillfully [as in an unskilled job] with their hands, carrying a large number of sacks or tomato harvest buckets. General farm work will include lifting and moving plastic on rolls and other weighted [sic] items of 50 to 75 pounds or more frequently during the work day. Uneven footing in rows and soft soil will be encountered.”

I knew at once I was fully qualified. Point B of Job Description was somewhat less straightforward: “Adverse Effect Wage Rate of $8.56 per hour applies […] No Bonus. Many Piece Rates Apply: [a list of piece rates followed].” Was I supposed to be paid $8.56/hour just for showing up, and also, “$0.50 per 24 quart bucket and up”? For a prospective domestic unskilled worker, with no education requirements, the pubilshed formulation of this single most important aspect of a job is less than edifying. At the time I figured that if Mexicans are willing to leave their families for many months at a time for the prospect of this pay, it must be worth a try. The last line on the Work Force One site read: “To display more information including how to apply for this job, click the button below.” Upon clicking, I was informed that I must register with Work Force One before becoming worthy of further information. The registration pages contained the usual nine yards, education, previous employment, all utterly impertinent to the job order, which required little else beside the presence of four extremities in good working order, opposable thumbs and a dependable cardiovascular system. Next day I took two buses and within less than two hours I arrived at the Work Force One office in Fort Lauderdale. I failed to persuade the receptionist into just letting me apply for the job. If it says register, then register you must. So I did. Cowed by her staunchness, I took some license relating my education and work history, figured that some understatement is at least as pardonable, for the sake of obtaining gainful employment with the Anonymous Private Sector in Myakka City, FL US, as crossing the Rio Grande with a hired coyote. After having registered, I once again reached for the magic e-button: click to apply. But instead of an address, a phone number, or yet another form to fill out I got the stern injunction to go see a Placement Specialist, whatever that is. Why does a migrant farmworker need a specialist to place him, I didn’t know (now I do), but I went up to the same receptionist. She informed me that I am not yet fully qualified to see a placement specialist: I must be orientated first. This ritual of initiation is offered on certain days, and luckily tomorrow is one. And it was the third day. I showed up in a timely fashion (two buses, less than two hours one way). An affable lady gave us a slide show (Microsoft Powerpoint), from which I remember two resources we were informed of: a resumé writing wo rkshop (I did not need a resumé) and a dress-for-success workshop, with the availability of presentable clothing from charity (just how fancy ought a tomato picker to dress?). The other information was less useful. Having imbibed it qualified me to sign up for an interview with the much longed-for placement specialist who will presumably give me the name of the farm, its address and phone number. I signed up and waited. I sat for a half hour in the wrong row of chairs and had to be set straight. I moved to the right row, and waited some more. A kindly gentlemen sat next to me and tried to start a conversation. On the third day of my quest I was less genial than usual. Undaunted, Ed Rosario introduced himself as the Manager of the Work Force One Office, gave me his card and told me that he was concerned watching me wait for a long time. As if by magic, at this point my name was called. I moved to the cubicle of the kafkian placement specialist. I gave her the number (9270630) of the job order about which I came. Upon looking up my data in the computer she told me that she couldn’t help me, for my address was in Massachusetts, while Work Force One serves Florida. My protest summonned the supervisor, who reassured the specialist that even Yankees may be helped, or something to this effect. We were ready for phase two, to verify my eligibility for employment. She asked for my Social Security card. I avoid carrying that flimsy and minute document, but having foreseen that I shall be called upon to prove my lawful existence, I produced my passport. The specialist found this proof unacceptable. Again protests from my part, supervisor summonned again. Supervisor examines the whimsical document (cover portrait, pages landscape, then portrait), turns it this way and that, then asks: “How does this prove that you are an American citizen?” I point at the cover, then at the injunction of the Secretary of State printed on page one. Argument won. Supervisor departs, specialist turns to the screen, then dials a telephone number. No answer. She jots down a name, Chuck Hautot, just like this, no Job Title, no Farm Name, and a phone number, for me to try later. “Would you please print out for me the page from where you copied this?” “Not permitted.” I went to see Mr. Ed Rosario, the office manager, whom I was fortunate to have met earlier. He invited me into his office. I briefly mentioned the Specialist’s and the Supervisor’s conundrum with the US Passport and its virtues, and dwelled in more detail on the fruits of my three days’ labor: Chuck Hautot’s phone number, voicing my doubt that any job related information available at Work Force One should be classified. After a brief aparté with the Supervisor, Mr. Rosario gave me the requested printout and volunteered the following piece of further information. The sentence in the job order that read : “ALL QUALIFIED UNITED STATES DOMESTIC WORKERS (CITIZENS AND FOREIGN WORKERS WITH VALID WORK VISAS) INCLUDING MSFW AND NON-MSFW WORKERS MAY BE REFERRED”, by virtue of a confidential agreement, has the opposite meaning. Because it was typed ALL CAPS, this meant that the job SHOULD NOT be offered to domestic workers. “They [the employer, that is] are required to advertise the job, but they want to hire only H2-A foreign workers” (and this is how I first learned who H2-As are). If hitherto I genuinely wished to live the simple life, now I became positively keen on learning why there is no simple life on a Florida farm. My interest grew over time, lead me to read up on it and eventually write this.

If this narrative seems tedious it merely reflects the excruciating tediousness of my endeavor to find a job in a field where domestic workers are needed and missed. To resume.

This is where the narrative of my job search ends, and that of my employment with Grainger Farms, Inc. begins. I never picked a single tomato. On day four I spoke with Chuck Hautot, the Manager of the stilll unnamed farm. Rather than asking me anything, Mr. Hautot tried to dissuade me from the job his company was advertising. Having failed, he refused to help me getting to the farm. I purchased my own bus ticket and travelled hours across state to Bradenton. From there I had no means to continue my journey other than my own two feet. I walked several miles in the August heat and hitchhiked for another twenty (illegal in Florida). Once I arrived at the jobsite, Mr. Hautot flat-out refused to hire me. I spent the night until the return bus sitting at a picnic table at the Bradenton Greyhound station.

Numerous past lawsuits, a recent newspaper article (Rick Laney: “Hispanic worker progam raises questions” Maryville (California) Daily Times, April 6, 2008), as well as Mr. Erik Lang’s (ETA-2008-0001-0746.1) video dramatization (; or substantiate that mine is not an idiosyncratic case, and that domestic workers are systematically discriminated against in hiring for H-2A jobs. The new and improved Recruitment Obligations bring no improvement whatsoever to the process. Not only remain these jobs little known, but as my experience illustrates, every effort is made to discourage potential domestic workers from actually coming anywhere near them. (Compare my ordeal with the process of hiring, say, at McDonald’s, where domestic workers are actually sought: within a day or two the fellow is ready to punch in. Mr. Lang’s video illustrates this point in more detail.)

Let us now see how this process will be modernized if DOL has its way.

“Employers would also be required to contact former employees to determine their willingness to accept the employer’s job opportunity.” Never mind that, as per Secretary Chao, there are hardly any former domestic employees. Migrant farmworkers are difficult to contact at their “permanent place of residence”; most lack telephones or fixed addresses. It would be discriminatory to link these workers’ employability to the possession of cell phones. On the other hand, such a modernized requirement would provide an unassailable excuse for the employers’ failure to locate domestic work force.

“Under the new recruitment system […] U.S. workers’ ability to identify job
opportunities would be further enhanced by requiring employers to place
three advertisements, instead of the currently required two, in a newspaper of
general circulation most appropriate for the agricultural occupation and most
likely to reach the U.S. workers who will apply for the job opportunity.

According to the employment statistics approximately 14% of the available jobs are filled through newspaper ads. I suspect that migrant farmworkers are less likely to peruse newspapers than the general population. Furthermore, a migrant farmworker can only avail himself of local newspapers, which is precisely where the season is ending and he must leave. There would be no need for the Labor Secretary to designate any state “of traditional or expected labor supply”, if one only ensured that modern channels of advertising, such as the Internet, were used. There are many web sites (CraigsList, JobSeekers, to name only two of the best known) that carry advertisements for day laborers, janitors and many other entry level jobs, and also, remarkably, quite numerous advertisment from agricultural employers genuinely seeking domestic workers, such as in North Dakota and Montana.

“Employers would begin advertising job opportunities no earlier than 120
calendar days and no later than 75 calendar days before the date on which the
foreign worker would begin work (i.e., the date of need). “

It has been already pointed out in the press and in prior comments, one originating with growers, that the timeframe is impractical for employers. It is likewise impracticable for migrant farmworkers. What I wish to emphasize is the blatantly bureaucratic character of this “modernization” (Mr Lang uses the correct terms farce and façade). While the previous novelty (of three versus two advertisments) was merely useless, this one is outright counterproductive for employer and employee alike. The old rules stipulated simply that recruitment must begin whenever the order was filed with the Regional Office and the SWA, leaving the grower the discretion of knowing his own business and the worker to scurry after the jobs.

The problem of housing sets farm labor apart from other minimum-wage jobs, seasonal or permanent, in an urban setting. The city-dweller can switch jobs without necessarily having to change residences, for a multitude are available within the same commuting radius. This is not possible for most migrant agicultural laborers. For this reason, minimum wage urban jobs are more appealing to domestic workers not merely by it being inherently more agreeable to flip hamburgers or bus tables than to harvest oranges, but their ready availability within a confined area lends them a peculiar but real security. In addition, since families can live together, apart from the obvious social aspects, it renders expenses more manageable. Thirdly, as we learn from the media, most workers must cumulate several minimum-wage jobs to cobble together a, if not easy, yet livable living. A migrant worker has a single pool of employment opportunities in any given area and season, related to the local crop, and he can not work more than one job on any given day. Farm jobs often entail a prohibitively long commute, sometimes a four hours round-trip and seldom less than two. In addition, farm jobs often feature uncompensated waiting time in the mornings, when certain crops (such as tomatoes) cannot be picked before the dew has dried. Thus, the average harvester spends 10 to 12hours every day while being paid (at or near minimum wage) for 6 to 8.

At this juncture I must refer to the comments of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (ETA-2008-0001-0042.1) Under the heading RECRUITMENT it presents a truthful and convincing picture of the hassle presented by domestic workers. Indeed, from the vantage point of the Fruit and Vegetable Grower, the domestic worker spells trouble and expense. Consider the third and fourth bullet points on page 5 of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (ETA-2008-0001-0042.1): • Received call from worker’s family member wanting information on housing, work hours, etc. He did not want worker to share living or cooking space with other workers. (15 minutes) • Received call from another family member asking more questions about living arrangements. Invited the whole family down to see housing and working conditions. (15 minutes) How much easier is to deal with an H-2A worker, whose family often has no telephone and speaks no English in the first place, and who, should he find anything objectionable about such niceties can be reminded of his temporary visa and that there is next year’s visa he is now gambling with? While there is a largely unenforced and unenforceable provision against arbitrary termination, one cannot prevent the inquisitive H-2A worker from being blacklisted. The other bullet points (pp. 4-5) are all to the point. This prompts the question as to how all other industries, including millions of low-paying jobs, make do with workers coming from the same demographic pool so utterly unmanageable by FVGs: newly-minted or home-grown Americans.


With regard to housing, the new rules propose to substitute the obligation to provide an actual roof with that of providing paper housing, i.e. vouchers. This modernization is not really new either, merely a hitherto overlooked method with dual benefits. It shifts the burden of locating affordable housing from the grower to the laborer and effectively puts a “dynamic” cap on the growers’ housing expenses, which will perpetually lag, if only slightly, behind the market. If vouchers are being introduced because availability of housing is a problem, it ought to be harder for a just-arrived Mexican temporary worker to find shelter than for a local businessman to provide accommodation for his crew. The Mexican H-2A worker is also burdened with having to find housing on his own, unpaid time, without his own transportation, in a rather wide, and unfamiliar rural sprawl. For the mythical domestic worker, such as myself, if hired by Grainger Farms, it would have been a nightmare having to walk two miles uphill to the farm, then back down to Myakka at 10 PM, and ask around on deserted streets, with shuttered storefronts. The temporary alien can either begin by a) paying for short term lodging, which is considerably more expensive, b) sponge on friends and fellow countrymen, if available, or c) rely on middlemen, not unlike the recruiters in Mexico, who charge significant fees; they will, no doubt, charge a finder’s fee for locating a shared trailer, which will now be exempt from housing standards.

The revised housing requirements merely add another reason why picky and spoiled domestic workers became “unavailable”.


This section of the proposed rules is a tour de force. Its central premise is that the hitherto miserly pay rate of migrant farmworkers must be further reduced, for their own good. Based on an arsenal of slipshod but very quantitative-sounding arguments and new techniques to calculate “prevailing wage”, the new rule proposes to break down the wage requirements into numerous local prevailing wages. As a result the current Adverse Effect Wage Rate would be drastically reduced in most locations. This proposal blissfully ignores the fact that the pay rate has stagnated over decades and does not constitute a living wage except if exported to poor countries.

“Minimum wage” and “adverse effect wage rate”, ought to mean, respectively that no one should be paid less than that, and that a slightly higher minimum wage is imposed in order to a) compensate for the woeful lack of baragaining power of temporary alien laborers and b) at least in part, counteract the adverse effect on domestic workers. Throughout the proposed regulation it is obvious that minimum wage (or less) is the actual wage paid by the vast majority of employers. A particularly valuable contribution of Farmworker Justice’s comments is its demonstration how, with the help of piece rates used in harvesting the AEWR, instead of being a forced higher minimum wage in practice ends up becoming an effective maximum wage.

The AEWR is intended to fulfill a broader function, and emphatically not to establish a shadowy minimum wage. (By the same token, should the FLSA minimum wage become an effective real wage throughout the economy at large, it would have lost its meaning and new measures would have to be found and implemented to supplant its current role.) The situation appears to be that the overall conditions of temporary farmworkers has not improved over the past two decades, and if anything, it has worsened, and this trend will only be aided by the proposed new ways of calculation of AEWR. The DOL ought to admit its impotence and at the very least to refrain from meddling with a tool is unable to improve on.

A hypothetical example show the inadequacy of the proposed AEWR. Assume in a given region a prevailing wage of $8. This wage will increase under two circumstances. The employer will have to increase it, if he wants to attract workers, or he will be forced to increase it, by employees who exercise their bargaining power. But the supply of H-2A workers is virtually bottomless, and they would still arrive should the wages decrease to $6.50, or $6, or $5, thanks to their domestic economic conditions. Their bargaining power is nil, since should they so much as dream of exercising it, the employer would refrain from putting their names on next year’s visa application. Domestic workers are, at best, in dire minority, so their bargaining power is negligible.The sole remaining motive for increasing the prevailing wage remains the good heart of the employer, seldom a dependable factor. Hence, the prevailing wages are bound to decrease. Approving the proposed rule on wages, would be an endorsement of a steady and predictable decrease in migrant farmworker wages, staved only by the FLSA minimum wage, unless a new wave of modernization will find a modality to altogether do away with it.

There is no need here to repeat the detailed and thorough comments of watch-dog organizations, such as Farmworker Justice. These comments thoroughly synthesize available historic facts, in this particular instance powerfully arguing the effect of foreign laborers on depressing prevailing wages; farmworkers’ notorious lack of bargaining power; their relative contentement with insultingly low pay, of which they often acquiesce even being cheated of due to the dire economic realities of their respective home countries, etc.

I politely differ from the views expressed by Farmworker Justice in a small detail: there is nothing “irrational” about the growers’ resourcefulness in avoiding the increasing labor costs, nor in DOL’s catering to their interests. The former keeps a watchful eye on narrow and short term profitability, the latter on the constituency: the domestic farmworker is virtually nonexistent, while the foreign workers are not constituents, so that the only remaining political force to be reckoned with is agribusiness. Should the DOL explicitly own up to this, I would no longer object to the term “modernizing” in the title. It would be a truly modern, indeed unprecedented, approach to the role of government in modern history.

“In announcing these changes [i.e. the new rules] Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said: ‘This issue must be addressed now, or our country will see eroding competitiveness in its agricultural sector, crops being left to rot in the fields, and increasing shifting of domestic food production overseas.” (Naples Daily News, March 23, 2008). We have seen, by and large, what these industry-saving changes amount to. (It is worth noting, the Secretary’s placing Mexico, one of the main competitors, overseas.) We have seen that the earlier quoted “there simply are not enough U.S. workers” is probably true only because the working conditions and pay in these temporary jobs are appalling. Should a misguided domestic worker consider taking the job, the employers see to it that he is kept at arm’s length. This second quote amplifies the first with the specter of rotting crops. Since the advent of truck farming in the late 19th century growers have stoked this fear, albeit it has never really come to pass. (It is true, that sometimes it was good business to let crop go unharvested, but not because of lack of manpower.) Until documented instances are produced, this should be viewed but whole-cloth fear-mongering: initiated by growers, reflexively perpetuated by politicians, broadcast by journalists. A threat that for over a century has failed to materialize is as real as the bogey-man, and as convenient as the latter is for manipulating children into behaving.

The Secretary’s argument runs: unless cheap labor is imported, the crop will rot; it is urgent to make it easier for the agricultural business to import this much needed cheap labor instead of importing cheap produce from remote overseas lands, such as our southern neighbor.

There is a more chilling aspect of this argument that fascinates attentive readers: the implication that the status quo, the unavailability of domestic workers, is unavoidable. Not only was this argument used at least since the implementation of the Bracero Program, during World War II (and refuted by the facts after 1964 when for a few years the crops were harvested by domestic labor instead of rotting in the field, at the expense, true, of some threat that domestic harvesters might demand comparable conditions to that of American workers in all other sectors of American industry). In earlier days, the main economic argument in favor of slavery was essentially identical. It was then argued that not only American economy will come to a standstill, but the entire world economy will go to seed without the benefits afforded by the well established Southern slavery. A few excerpts from a contemporary treatise might be instructive: “He who looks for any other result, must expect that nations, which, for centuries, have waged war to extend their commerce will abandon that means of aggrandizement, and bankrupt themselves to force the abolition of American slavery!” p. 56. “To supply the existing demand for tropical products, except by the present mode, is impossible.” p. 219. (David Christy: Cotton is King. In: Cotton is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments. E. N. Elliott, L.L.D. ed., Pritchard, Abbott & Loomis. Augusta, Georgia, 1860) A few decades earlier, the English manufacturers had argued that a Ten Hours’ Bill would increase the cost of production and incapacitate the English producers for competition in foreign markets.

As we know, England remained the major industrial force after the passing of the Ten Hour Bill, and the U.S., as well as the world economy continued to grow after the, and in spite of, the abolition of slavery. But the mindset that gave rise to the prospective fear of those affected is understandable. British industry and American agriculture existed under those historic conditions, and if, in imagination, one mechanically subtracted and essential element, one could not but see their ruin. Likewise, unforeseen changes in other aspects of life brought about changes that could not have been imagined in earlier days. It was still a measure of the Great Gatsby’s grandeur to bring in fresh orange juice to his Long Island party (in the 1920s); today, it is a fact of life, deplored by the likes of Michael Moore, that the General Motors is moving much of its manufacturing to the same Mexico from which US agriculture imports unskilled labor and fears moving its produce fields. On the other hand, Henry Ford would have institutionalized any madman to prophesy that his workers will be offered severance pays in the range of a hundred thousand dollars for volunteering to unburden its payroll. It is, I believe, safe to say, that these upheavals are much greater than the difficulties of controlling the quality and safety of imported produce, an issue that is sometimes mentioned as an argument for keeping US agriculture at home.

Labor-intensive American agriculture has developed into an industrial enterprise, and has as little in common with traditional farming as modern industry has with nineteenth century manufactories; while the regulation of industrial labor has, for better or worse, kept pace with the demands of contemporary industrial labor, the regulation of agricultural labor was arrested in its main aspects at the pre- New Deal stage, followed by a patchwork of improvements and grudging compromises. The new set of rules proposed by the DOL only adds new haphazard palleatives meant to benefit the growers, under the assumption that the status quo is the only option, and does it under the heading “modernization”, which it definitely is not.


The situation is viewed from the vantage point of agricultural business, from which it appears that food production can be profitable only by maintaining the seasonal farmworkers around the level of dire misery. Any measure of improvement to their lives is out of question. A historic and often renewed solution for maintaining seasonal farmworkers so blatantly out of keeping with the rest of the working population was to replace the domestic work force with one from abroad. As they assimilate, newcomers will evolve the same needs and wants as everyone in this country and will either raise demands or move on in search for better paying jobs. Therefore it is essential to maintain a work pool for which the miserly earnings are still meaningful, people, that is, who

spend abroad what they earn here: mainly temporary Mexicans, who send their earnings back home. Following the Immigratio n Reform and Control Act of 1986, the country started with a more or less clean slate, but over twenty years the illegal Mexican population has increased dramatically and is perceived as unduly problematic. The sole function of the H-2A program is to provide a legal substitute for the former, while maintaining its vulnerability and its temporary character, perchance perfecting these desirable traits. There is no real concern for protecting domestic seasonal farm labor, and not even lip service is being paid to the possibility that such a large country could supply, and a healthy industry should be able to attract, the workforce necessary for its normal functioning.

Upon this background, the purpose of the DOL Proposed Regulations is to render H-2A workers less costly, thereby a workable alternative to employing undocumented workers, thus phasing out illegal immigration without the least inconvenience for agricultural businesses. This simple and cynical purpose is dressed up in reassuring sound bites and respectable statistics, and even earnest and knowledgeable advocates are liable to get entangled in the convoluted language and intricacies of regulatory considerations, so that a semblance of fairness is maintained by shifting the blame from naked Realpolitik to bland and faceless bureaucracy.

As a private person, a taxpayer and a citizen, I oppose the regulatory changes to the H-2A program and request that the DOL either withdraws this proposal or purges it of the misleading wording.

Looking forward to your detailed response.
Peter Ratiu

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