Opening Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
on Immigrant Farm Labor Reform
July 21, 2021
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start today’s
hearing by noting that, last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
encountered 188,829 people at the southern border. That is up 471 percent from
Encounters with unaccompanied children
were up 802 percent from last June, and family unit encounters were up 3,224
percent from last June.
It’s clear that we are still facing an
ongoing crisis at the southern border. And it’s long past time for this
committee to exercise its oversight responsibilities and seek testimony from
Secretary Mayorkas and other Administration officials regarding what they are
doing – or not doing – to address it.
With respect to the issue of agricultural
labor, it’s an unfortunate reality that a significant portion of the
agricultural workforce is made up of illegal immigrants.
It is an unfortunate reality that a
significant portion of the agricultural workforce in this country is made up of
The H-2A program was set up to secure a stable
flow of legal agricultural labor into the United States. Unfortunately, it does
not work well for many employers in my home state of Iowa.
I would like to make three points
regarding congressional consideration of agricultural labor reform proposals.
First, the primary focus should be reforming
the H-2A program to ensure that farmers and agricultural employers
have access to a stable and legal workforce.
This will involve expanding the program to
cover year-round agricultural industries such as pork, dairy and agricultural
It should also involve streamlining the
program, reducing red tape and addressing the high cost of using the program.
Workforce Modernization Act falls short in addressing a number of these
Second, it is important that any
agricultural labor reform, and immigration reform more broadly, include a
robust and mandatory E-Verify component.
Finally, agricultural labor reform should
not include a mass amnesty of current illegal immigrant farm workers.
We should learn from the mistakes of the
past or we are doomed to repeat them.
In 1986, I voted for a bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, that
provided an amnesty to more than one million farm workers under what was called
the Special Agricultural Workers (SAW)
program. At the time, the American people were told that the 1986 amnesty
bill would be a one-time fix.
Title I of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a program called Certified
Agricultural Worker (CAW) status that is, in many respects, almost identical to
the SAW program Congress created in 1986.
The 1986 SAW amnesty program was
notoriously riddled with fraud.
The New York Times called the SAW program
“one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated against the
United States government.”
Then-Congressman Chuck Schumer, who was
one of the authors of the SAW portion of the 1986 bill, said later that it was
“too open” and susceptible to fraud.
In a July 2000 report, the Inspector
General of the Department of Justice noted that, in 1995, management at the
then-Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that 70 percent of SAW
applications were fraudulent.
On top of being bad policy, a mass amnesty
of current farm workers also does absolutely nothing to address agricultural labor
shortages and workforce issues.
As we saw in the aftermath of the 1986
amnesty bill, the vast majority of agricultural workers who received legal
status ultimately left the agricultural sector.
Employers then turned to a new pool of
illegal immigrant workers to replace all of the ones who had left. And, thus,
the cycle simply began once again.
I hope that Congress will ultimately be
able to address agricultural labor reform in a way that breaks the cycle of
dependence on illegal labor and helps farmers and agricultural employers get
access to the legal labor that they need to continue feeding America.
Workforce Modernization Act doesn’t do that, but I look forward to working
with my colleagues on legislation that does.