Thanksgiving: A Time for America to Recommit to Farmers and Farm Workers
By: Andrew Sarega, La Mirada City Councilman
While Thanksgiving is a time to count our many blessings, it’s also a time for our nation to especially appreciate our food supply and how it gets onto our plates.
The nation’s ability to produce and ensure a safe and reliable food supply falls on the shoulders of America’s farmers and farm workers.
Yet underlying this reality is the fact that the federal visa programs used to attain an authorized legal workforce have a long history of flaws, resulting in the high number of unauthorized workers we see today.
For decades, agriculture has relied on this influx of immigrant workers to harvest crops and fill on-farm jobs. These foreign-born farm workers, the majority of whom are here illegally, have been willing to do the manual labor required of many on-farm jobs when American citizens have not. They are the very reason farmers are able to harvest their crops. But even with this labor pool, there remains an acute shortage of farm labor – legal or otherwise.
Congress has turned a blind eye to this for years. Fortunately, there is movement on Capitol Hill to finally address this matter. The Agriculture Guest Worker Act of 2017 recently passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. While it remains a work in progress, key concepts included in the Act provide a positive and encouraging starting point.
While immigration reform is enormously complex, it is important that Congress remain focused on finding a solution to ensuring a legal and reliable pool of farm labor.
Congress would do well by zeroing in on developing a system that creates a work visa program to cover existing farm workers by granting them legal status to work in this country for a period of time.
Already, this issue is being politicized and misrepresented on both sides of the aisle. So for the record, the Ag Guest Worker Act:
- Grants work visas to currently unauthorized workers
- Provides stability for farmers and harvest workers
- Ensures harvest workers are paid the highest of the following wages: 15% above the federal minimum wage, the state or local minimum wage; this means that in California, harvest workers will earn at least 39% above the federal minimum wage.
- Couples e-verify with a system granting legal work status
- Does not provide a path to citizenship, but ensures that farm workers are able to do this necessary work legally and without fear of deportation
- Does not address border security
By focusing on this simple goal to create legal status where there currently is none will resolve a critical business and human problem. It also would serve as an example to the American public that Congress can rise above partisanship to offer a pragmatic solution. Finally, a workable Ag Guest Worker Act would set the stage for Congress to begin addressing more global and controversial issues.
When you say grace before your Thanksgiving meal, be sure to remember where your food comes from.