Nearly all House Democrats, plus a group of 34 Republicans, voted Wednesday to approve an amnesty for illegal farmworkers and to outsource more of the nation’s farm workforce to cheap H-2A visa workers.
The bill, H.R. 5038, would likely amnesty more than a million illegal aliens, and it also subsidizes farm companies that hire more H-2A visa workers instead of hiring Americans.
Those subsidies for hiring foreign H-2A workers include rules to cut the H-2A workers’ pay below the expected 2020 rates, plus massive housing subsidies for the migrant workers. The biggest subsidy, however, is that employers will be allowed to dangle the prize of Americans’ citizenship to H-2A migrants who agree to work at low wages for long hours in harsh conditions.
Americans comprise roughly three-quarters of the 2.1 million workers in farming, fishing, and forestry, according to a November 2018 report by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, the workforce includes 325,000 illegal workers, or one-in-six of the workforce, said Pew. The estimate of working illegal aliens is far below the Democrats’ estimate of two million illegal aliens who will benefit from an amnesty.
In 2019, farm companies hired roughly 250,000 H-2A workers but complained bitterly about their rising wages in the nation’s good economy. There is no cap on the number of H-2A migrant workers who can be imported into the United States.
The subsidies for hiring H-2As will also discourage farm companies from buying the American-made farm machinery that reduces the need for farmworkers. If American farmers then decline to develop and buy modern machinery, such as semi-automated fruit pickers, they will lag further behind their increasingly sophisticated foreign rivals.
Immigration reform groups, such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, slammed the bill as unfair to Americans and agriculture employees. “Absolutely disgraceful anti-modernity corporatist giveaway,” said Andrew Good, an analyst at NumbersUSA.
Some Democrat-tied groups, such as the United Food and Commercial Workers union, also spoke up against the subsidies for hiring H-2As.
The opposition may have dramatically reduced the number of Republicans who voted for the bill. “The proposal also garnered the support of 34 Republicans, although proponents were hopeful up to 100 GOP lawmakers would vote for the bill,” TheHill.com reported. The final tally showed that 161 Republicans voted against the amnesty and outsourcing bill.
The GOP no-votes included three GOP cosponsors of the bill: Utah Rep. John Curtis, Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs, and Utah Rep. Chris Stewart.
Three Democrats voted against the bill, while 226 Democrats voted for the bill. The three Democrat defectors were Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, and Maine Rep. Jared Golden. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib did not vote.