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Grassley Opening Remarks at Hearing on Immigrant Farm Labor Reform

Prepared Opening Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on Immigrant Farm Labor Reform
Wednesday, 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 last June.
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 illegal immigrants.
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 processing.
It should also involve streamlining the program, reducing red tape and addressing the high cost of using the program.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act falls short in addressing a number of these issues.
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.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act doesn’t do that, but I look forward to working with my colleagues on legislation that does.