House Subcommittee Passes Smith Guest Worker Legislation

Mar 12, 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims today passed Chairman Smith's guest worker legislation (H.R. 3410) by voice vote. The bill wil now go on to full committee consideration.

A recent study by the federal 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.

For this reason, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) introduced the Temporary Agriculture Worker Act. The legislation (H.R. 3410) would create a two-year pilot program, available to 5 geographically and agriculturally diverse areas, and permit up to 20,000 work visas be issued to assist American farmers in finding a sufficient labor force in times of domestic shortages. The legislation passed a key House Subcommittee today.

"There is simply no effective way for farmers to find enough laborers under the current system. The H-2A program is unwieldy, complicated, and completely misunderstands the realities of farm work. When farms are their busiest, the program 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 ensure their workforce," Smith said.

"All the newspapers are saying 'there is no national labor shortage.' Whether that's true or not, there are most definitely regional shortages. As for the national level - the labor force includes anywhere from 600,000 to 1.2 million illegal aliens. To say the current system works is like telling hospitals they don't need any source of legal pharmaceuticals because they can buy plenty of drugs on the street," Smith said.

Under Smith's legislation, the Secretary of Agriculture would designate 5 diverse areas to participate in the pilot program. The program's success would then be evaluated by an unbiased third party, such as the GAO, to determine its effectiveness in providing a legal workforce and adjusting to the changing needs of the nation's farmers. Workers would receive no less than the prevailing wage rate, but a portion of wages would be withheld until the laborers return to their country of origin after a maximum stay of two years.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of Eastern, Southern, and Central Oregon in the U.S. House of Representatives.