Recently, an article in a large newspaper caught my eye with a quote from a farmer in words that were so perfect for the “comprehensive reform” amnesty crowd that it seemed like a lobbyist had coached him on what to say. So, over a 2-week period I tried to contact him, and finally caught up with him a couple of days ago.
Our conversation illuminates how decent family farmers have gotten mixed up with the amnesty lobby.
He really is a farmer, a 73 year-old, extremely vigorous and hard-working man.
He himself worked in the fields as a picker in the 1950s and early 1960s. He said in 1956 he made as much as $30 for a 12-hour day when he was pitching peas into a viner. I went to the inflation calculator at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It says $30 is like $237 today.
Today, the farmer said, a good picker working a 12 hour day can make $120, even $150 per day.
So, farmers today are paying pickers $120 to $150 a day for work that earned this farmer the equivalent of $237 in 1956.
He says American kids and American professional pickers (itinerant pickers who went where the growing season took them) used to work in the fields, but that began to stop in 1967 when Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program was enacted. "Well Johnson said, 'You don't have to do that anymore. That's below your dignity. Great Society. Stay home and the government will take care of you.' " He said that since 1970-71, the only people who show up to work are from south of the border.
We talked about the federal budget deficit and $36 trillion national debt and I speculated that the entire Great Society system may collapse and you will see Americans in the fields again. He said something like, "How long will that take? I need workers now. Today, everybody feels entitled."
I asked if he knows about the H-2A program that provides an unlimited number of visas to temporary/seasonal farm workers. I mentioned that the government says that they gave the program a major streamlining in December 2008. He said that the program is so hard to use that farmers need to have independent contractors do the paperwork for them, and that means extra fees they really cannot afford.
This what most farmers around the country say, although the farmers of North Carolina put together a cooperative that takes care of the visas and find the H-2A program to work just fine for them
His wife said that if she hadn’t had a government job for over 20 years, they would have nothing. He said he lost $200,000 last year because the price of apples plummeted due to the Chinese flooding the market with low cost apple concentrate. He said he is getting killed financially between taxation and the large corporate growers who come in and buy up land, then sell the produce at cost in order to drive the other growers into financial distress so they will sell their land. He said he knows 7 good independent farmers who have recently thrown in the towel. He may have to do so soon.
What this farmer wants is a temporary jobs program that lets workers in, and then lets them return to their countries. He says that farmworkers are bringing their families here because it is so hard to get back across the border when the season is over. So they smuggle in their families so they can be together. He basically wants the farm workers at his door and doesn't want to have to pay the transport costs.
Unfortunately, the media is full of quotes and stories from farmers like this one who are backing an amnesty for all of their illegal workers instead of working to use the legal guestworker program that is available to them.
NumbersUSA agrees that there ought to be some modifications in the H-2A program to make it easier for farmers to use and to ensure rapid response at the last minute if a farmer can't find the workers to bring in a crop. But the amnesty lobby has been holding H-2A reform hostage. The amnesty lobby doesn't want the agriculture problem solved, because they know that if the farmers have their problem solved, they will exit the “comprehensive reform” coalition. They are basically saying that the farmers must support amnesty in order to get their problem solved. But without the amnesty lobby, the farmers’ problems could be solved very quickly. All the talk of “comprehensive reform” means holding up other reforms that could be made now so they can build a coalition for passing an amnesty.
CHARLES BREITERMAN is an attorney and writer/researcher for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Jul 21st 2017 @ 10:56am EDT