We know that Donald Trump is against any type of immigration reform that allows immigrant workers into the country but does not pay for The Wall. The Republicans, however, have mostly supported immigrant labor if they could keep the notion that they are anti-immigrant in the minds of the voters. The Republicans have historically been the most immigrant labor friendly of the two parties, although vocally they pretended otherwise. That is until Donald Trump took the helm of the Republican Party. Now the Republican Party is between the reality that their constituency desperately needs an immigrant workforce while having to keep the lie intact that they are pro-legal immigration. Trump has made the lie impossible to keep.

The Republicans need an immigrant workforce. Twice they have attempted to adopt comprehensive immigration reform during this congressional session and both times they have failed. Although comprehensive immigration reform is difficult because of divisions within the party and of Trump’s insistence in draconian border controls, the Republicans have continued to try to adopt a guest worker program for their constituency.

The problem for the Republicans is that they need workers to shore up industries like the agricultural sectors. The 2017 Agricultural Guestworker Act and the Securing America’s Future Act both failed to pass. The GOP then tried to insert guest worker legislation into the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act and that failed as well. The need for immigrant labor remains and the Republicans are trying to resolve the problem.

House Speaker Paul Ryan promised his Republican colleagues a vote on an agricultural work permit program before the end of July recently. To make an agricultural guest worker legislation more palatable to the Republicans opposed to immigration legislation, the latest proposed bills focus on providing guest worker programs without giving the recipients the opportunity to settle legally in the United States. In addition to the no pathway to citizenship, the legislation must not include a resolution to the DACA recipients to allow more Republicans to come on board.

Even with these conditions, it appears any guest worker legislation is unlikely to be taken up by Congress before the August recess.

The hypocrisy of the Republicans on immigrant labor is on full display as the recriminations of promises for guest worker bills are argued in public. The fact is that the percentage of farm labor that is immigrant has been declining since 1998. [1] In 2012, the percent of migrant farm workers stood at about 17% of the labor force. The reason for the drop in immigrant workers from México are the falling Mexican birth rates, a better Mexican economy and enhanced border security is a result of 9/11.

Nonetheless, immigrant labor is crucial to several American economic sectors, including agriculture. Immigrants account for almost half (46%) of the 1.2 million workers working in farming, fishing and forestry in 2014. However, when labor is analyzed by industry, the top two industries for undocumented workers are construction at 16% and restaurants at 14% of the work force. [2]

California needs immigrant labor in its agricultural sector although the California delegation doesn’t want the guest worker legislation. The California agricultural sector is also against any bill that includes E-Verify. E-Verify allows employers to verify the legal status of their employees.

The California farm lobby objects to provisions requiring that employers verify the status of their workers and any requirement requiring undocumented workers to return to their countries before applying for a guest worker permit.

The underlining fear driving the California lobby from supporting a guest worker program is the requirement that their existing workforce be required to leave the country before applying for a work permit. “We don’t believe, after talking to our farmers, that people here with false documents are going to raise their hand…and touch back,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association to McClatchy in an article published on March 5, 2018.

The “touch back” provision requires undocumented immigrants who want a work permit to return to their country before applying. Likewise, the Farm Bureau argues that an E-Verify requirement “without assuring that a workable guest worker program is in place could have a significant, negative impact on U.S. farm production.”

Therein lies the crux of the hypocrisy of the Republicans in Congress.

Their constituency needs a stable immigrant workforce. Any legislation that requires undocumented workers to return and apply for a work permit ignores the fundamental fact that it will fail. It will fail because the farm work needs to be completed on its own time table and not at the time table of a bureaucracy issuing work permits to the labor force.

It is the typical “egg before the chicken” scenario.

Immigration reform in the United States can best be described as reactionary driven by agenda-driven legislation designed to quiet dissenting voices while trying to keep undocumented immigrants working in key American industries.

The Republicans need a stable immigrant workforce but are unwilling to articulate it and much less adopt legislation to resolve the labor problems. As a result, immigrants continue to fill the labor needs of the country while hypocritically and publicly castigated for all the ills of the country.

1. Fan, Maoyong and Jeffrey M. Perloff; “Where Did All the Migrant Farm Workers Go?”; Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Policy Brief; July 2016
2. DeSilver, Drew; “Immigrants don’t make up a majority of workers in any U.S. industry”; Pew Research: Fact Tank; March 16, 2017

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

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