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'Colbert Hearing' Makes Case AGAINST AgJOBS Amnesty


Comedy Central Comedian Stephen Colbert testified before the House Immigration Subcommittee on Friday morning on behalf of illegal migrant workers. While Colbert and two other pro-Amnesty panelists presented a sympathetic case for legalization of illegal migrant workers, their testimony also exposed the major flaws with the AgJOBS Amnesty proposal.

The AgJOBS Amnesty would provide “blue cards” to migrant workers who can prove they’ve worked a designated number of hours in the fields. Once they receive their “blue cards,” they can apply for legal status in 3-5 years based on the number of hours they continue to work in the fields.

Let me make that last point clear.

Once they receive their Amnesty, they must work in the fields for at least three more years as a condition of their legalization process.

In other words, AgJOBS is nothing more than indentured servitude – a practice that was used to lure low-skilled immigrants to the United States during colonial times and has been outlawed by both the U.S. government and the United Nations.

Most illegal migrant workers work for very little money and are often subjected to employer abuse. Stephen Colbert gave the Subcommittee a taste of what he thinks about work on the farm.

…please don’t make me do this again.

…it is really, really hard.

…even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans.

I am not going back out there.

-- Stephen Colbert, Testimony to House Immigration Subcommittee, Sept. 24, 2010

So Colbert who worked on a farm in Upstate New York as part of a sketch on his Comedy Central show understands first hand the rigors of farm work. I don’t think anyone would disagree with Colbert’s assessment that farm work is not easy.

But a question that the House Subcommittee Members didn’t ask, but should have is:

Mr. Colbert, based on your experiences with farm labor and under current working conditions, who in their right minds would continue to work in the fields after they are given an Amnesty?

I’m sure Colbert would have had a sarcastic, but revealing, response to the question, and the answer is simple: once illegal migrant workers earn legal status, they no longer will work on the fields, which is why AgJOBS requires migrant workers to continue working in the fields as a condition for their Amnesty. The only way to prevent this from happening is to improve the working conditions on the farms.

Colbert pointed out in his opening statement that only 15 Americans, other than himself, participated in a program launched by the United Farm Workers called “Take Our Jobs.” The union encouraged unemployed Americans to take agricultural jobs away from illegal migrant workers. But as Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) pointed out during the hearing: why would any American want to do hard labor on the farm when they can make more money collecting unemployment?

Arturo Rodriguez, who serves as the president of the United Farm Workers and testified on Friday alongside Colbert, said that 25% of migrant workers in America are either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) asked Rodriguez why those 25% choose to do a job that “Americans won’t do.”

There are tens of thousands of people here legally working in agriculture. … They enjoy the work that they do and they continue to do so. They have good wages. The have a medical plan, vacations, and paid holidays like any other American worker in this country.

-- Arturo Rodriguez, House Immigration Subcommittee, Sept. 24, 2010


If farm workers can earn a livable wage and benefits, then maybe Americans will do these jobs. But, according to Rodriguez, 75% of farm workers are underpaid and abused, so maybe that issue should be addressed rather than throwing around Amnesty proposals as a solution.

The pro-Amnesty groups also try to argue that the issue isn’t about wages; it’s the location of the farms and the availability of labor near those farms. Phil Glaize from the U.S. Apple Association and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform said this during the hearing…

Farm workers can earn more per hour picking apples than flipping burgers or stocking shelves in a big-box retail store.

-- Phil Glaize, House Immigration Subcommittee, Sept. 24, 2010

But Glaize went on to say that Americans are more educated and tend to live in and near cities rather than live where the farms are. Isn’t it ironic, though, that Glaize’s orchard is just an hour outside of Washington D.C. where plenty of unemployed and underprivileged Americans may be willing to travel, with assistance, to earn a decent wage. Glaize pointed out that the harvest season for apples and other fruits is only about a week, but surely we could examine ways to help unemployed Americans get to where the work is.

According to the testimony on Friday, there are two issues. First, most farm workers earn poverty-level wages in horrible working conditions, and second, farms that do pay livable wages with benefits don’t have a labor pool available to them.

It sounds like we have a few topics for Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren’s next hearing. Instead of offering Amnesty as the only solution, let’s further examine the reasons why Americans won’t do farm work and figure out a way to entice them to work on the farms.

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Website Content Manager for NumbersUSA

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