A report by NumbersUSA, a leading immigration reduction advocacy organization, revealed that the H-2A agriculture temporary worker program has seen another case of forced labor lodged against a company using the program. Despite this, some members of Congress and lobbyists are endeavoring to further expand H-2A.
The recent case of conspiracy to commit forced labor involved Los Villatoros Harvesting (LVH), whose owner entered a guilty plea in response to the charges. With regard to the case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated: “The scheme these defendants employed trapped the victims through fear of serious harm if they did not continue to toil away for the defendants’ profit.”
The DOJ alleged that LVH forced vulnerable Mexican workers to pay huge amounts of money just to get to the United States, and subsequently required them to work daily for what amounted to no pay. In order to maintain control over the workers, the company went so far as to confiscate passports and issue threats of physical harm to the workers and their family.
As the NumbersUSA reports points out, while the guilty plea is specifically for conspiracy to commit forced labor, this is in effect equivalent to modern day slavery. This is what makes it so troubling that certain members of Congress are pushing to expand this program.
NumbersUSA is a leading nonpartisan immigration-reduction group founded by Roy Beck in response to two national commissions on immigration issues. One was a bipartisan congressional commission chaired by former Rep. Barbara Jordan, and another was a commission created under presidential authority and chaired by former Sen. Tim Wirth. Both commissions found that reducing immigration numbers towards their historical average was in the best interest of the United States and its authorized residents.
On a bipartisan basis, in 2021 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1603 The Farm Workforce Modernization Act. One factor attracting Democrat votes is the bill’s offer of amnesty for illegal aliens through performing agricultural work. Given the multiple violations associated with this program, NumbersUSA points states in its report that it is “stunning that Congress is bragging about it.”
The bill provides workers in the agricultural industry the opportunity to attain lawful permanent resident status if they remain in the industry from 4 to 8 years, with the time for each worker dependent on their specific circumstances. This, the NumbersUSA report states, amounts to forcing workers into “indentured servitude for the agricultural industry.”
While the bill does indicate support for offering labor and wage protections for foreign and U.S. workers, history shows that the government simply lacks the staffing to adequately police the program in its current incarnation, let alone if it is expanded. Many reports attest to this fact.
As NumbersUSA points out, if Congress thinks it can simply regurgitate the labor protection mandates and claim victory it is barking up the wrong tree. The report states: “The United States admits far more workers than they can possibly regulate. Millions of temporary workers on top of millions of illegal immigrants are working in the United States, so even a motivated enforcement scheme could not capture more than a fraction of the employers abusing foreign and domestic workers.”
Roy Beck by, who worked as a journalist covering politics in DC before becoming a policy analyst specializing in immigration and U.S. population issues, founded NumbersUSA to encourage government policies that benefit society by enabling the government to choose the optimal number of authorized immigrants to enter the country. NumbersUSA has more than eight million participants including conservatives, liberals and moderates. Its members are encouraged to lobby public officials to reduce immigration numbers toward traditional levels in order to help current and future generations enjoy a standard of living that isn’t diminished by excessive immigration.
Rather than trying to effectively enforce labor laws by massively expanding the employment regulatory payroll, the report suggests reasonably reducing how many foreign workers are in the U.S. to a number that can be adequately policed by the existing regulatory apparatus. The report states:
“The calamity at the border provides a great case study on how overwhelming numbers reduce the ability to vet and oversee migrants. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found multiple problems as the numbers have increased. It is time for lawmakers to realize the same problems of overwhelming numbers we see at the border also applies to the legal immigration system.”
With the government incapable of adequately overseeing the treatment of workers employed in programs such as H2-A, it would be better off mandating that American employers hire American workers at a living sage while at the same time guarding foreign workers against slavery and other abuses.
The NumbersUSA report calls for significantly reducing the hard numerical limits on foreign worker categories and requiring the use of E-Verify by employers. It concludes as follows: “We need to stop allowing businesses to bully the public with threats of shipping jobs overseas or astronomical price increases at any hint of labor protections. The critics will claim that without dependence on exploited foreign workers that prices will rise, but as always they neglect the price paid by child labor, discrimination against American workers, and indentured servitude. No matter how much they speak about per capita GDP growth and cheap goods and services they cannot change the reality of the cost American and foreign workers pay.”