Still a need for commuter farmworker program
Representatives of the agriculture industry in our area renewed a longtime plea last week for changes in immigration law to better meet their employment needs.
The agriculture industry here, as well as in other parts of the nation, is reliant on foreign workers to do field work and to process crops. Not enough Americans are willing to do the work, and that means looking to workers from other nations, especially Mexico in our area.
Fortunately, there is a provision in U.S. immigration law that permits recruitment and employment of foreign workers in agriculture and other industries. The H2-A program allows farmers to hire these workers if there is a shortage of American workers willing to do the work.
A farm labor contractor who provides ag workers for Yuma and Imperial counties said it would be impossible to harvest crops without H2-A. Yet it does not truly meet the needs of our area, which is close to the Mexican border.
That is why they asked for a new guest worker program or at least changes in the H2-A program during a conference in Yuma last week.
Many field workers here actually live within commuting distance and prefer to travel to work and back home across the border each day. H2-A doesn't have a provision for that. Every worker in that program has to be provided with a housing opportunity, even if they don't want it or use it. That's expensive and unnecessary in our region.
What local growers want is a commuter worker program that acknowledges the local worker dynamics. For years they have asked for it, yet they have been unable to get Congress to even approve a pilot program.
It makes no sense. These changes would not add to the illegal immigrant population. The workers would just do their jobs and go home each night. It would be a legal and sensible way to hire badly needed farmworkers.
When will Washington stop playing politics with this issue and take the sensible action that is needed?