Bipartisan Guest Worker Reform Introduced

Jul 21, 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a press conference today, Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR) Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, voiced his strong support for legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of senators led by Gordon Smith (R-OR) to reform the Guest Worker Program (H2-A).

A recent study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that more than 40 percent of the nation's agriculture labor pool consists of illegal aliens. While other estimates have gone as high as 80 percent, this means that at least 600,000 illegally documented agricultural workers will be lost if U.S. immigration laws are fully enforced. The fact that these aliens may be deported at any time combined with the current regional labor shortages have made it increasingly difficult for farmers to find enough workers to plant and harvest their crops.

In March, Chairman Smith introduced the Temporary Agriculture Worker Act (H.R. 3410) to create a two-year pilot program permitting up to 20,000 work visas be issued to assist American farmers in finding a sufficient labor force in times of domestic shortages. Since that time, Chairman Smith has worked with his colleagues in the Senate to craft bipartisan legislation which would pass Congress this year.

"Far too often, farmers get caught short trying to find enough workers at harvest time. The H-2A program is unwieldy, complicated, and completely misunderstands the realities of farm work. When farms are their busiest, it tells them to spend every waking moment filling out forms and traveling all over in the hopes of finding people to work their land. There's got to be a better way to safeguard their workforce. This is simple, effective reform that will help farmers when they need it most," Chairman Smith said.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives.