Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a markup of H.R. 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019:
"With today’s markup, the House Judiciary Committee is taking an important step towards finally addressing an issue of critical national importance: the growing labor challenges on America’s farms.
"Solving this issue is paramount for the sustainability of American farming. It is also a matter of national security.The less safe and robust our domestic food supply, the more dependent we are on foreign nations, and the more vulnerable we become to food contamination and epidemics. Decreased production also results in wildly fluctuating market prices and increased national debt.
"The Farm Workforce Modernization Act offers stability for American farms by providing a temporary status to current farmworkers with an optional path to a green card. The bill also addresses the nation’s future labor needs by modernizing an outdated system for temporary workers, while ensuring fair wages and workplace conditions.
"Today, food imports account for approximately 32 percent of the fresh vegetables and 55 percent of the fresh fruit that Americans consume. Although the increase in imported food can be attributed in part to changing consumer demands, systemic labor challenges are a significant contributor.
"The number of self-employed and family farm workers has declined significantly over the past several decades, and fewer U.S. workers are turning to agricultural work as their chosen pursuit. Because of this, most of today’s hired farm laborers are foreign-born. Unfortunately, our immigration laws have not been updated to reflect the needs of our 21st century economy.
"For example, our immigration laws provide only 10,000 green cards per year to people without bachelor’s degrees—that’s 10,000 green cards not just for those working in agriculture, but also for those working in hospitality, food processing, and many other areas where immigrants fill work force gaps.
"Due in part to these outdated laws, undocumented workers now comprise about half of the farm workforce.Replacement workers, however, are dwindling due to increases in immigration enforcement and an improving Mexican economy. As labor shortages have grown, employers have increasingly shifted to the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program. In Fiscal Year 2018, nearly 200,000 H-2A visas were issued, more than triple the number issued in 2012.
"But the H-2A program has been sharply criticized from all sides. Farmers with year-round needs are not eligible to participate, and nearly all agree that the program is too burdensome and expensive.
"The program also fails to sufficiently prevent the abuse and exploitation of foreign workers, which indirectly harms the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.
"Clearly, the H-2A program needs our attention. But even with much-needed reforms, the H-2A program alone cannot meet farm labor needs. Current farmworkers remain a critical component of the agricultural labor force. On average, they have been in the United States for 18 years and have developed knowledge and skills that cannot simply be replaced.
"American farmers are still in business because of these workers.But they are living and working in a state of uncertainty and fear, which contributes to the destabilization of farms across the nation.No acceptable solution can fail to deal with this reality.
"We must find the courage to do what is right—to provide a seat at America’s table for those who have long grown the food we serve on it.
"H.R. 5038 is the right solution.
"This legislation would provide security to current farmworkers, and their employers, while ensuring a future stable workforce under fair and safe conditions.
"I want to thank my friend and colleague, Ms. Lofgren of California, for her leadership and steadfast commitment to the bipartisan process that led to introduction of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. I am pleased that we are now marking up this legislation today and I urge all of my colleagues on this Committee to support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act."