tv Agriculture Secretary Testifies on Immigrant Farmworkers CSPAN July 22, 2021 2:02am-5:07am EDT
farmworkers. i am happy to make this not only a full committee hearing but to acknowledge the chairman of our immigration subcommittee who is integral part of this conversation and a part of this hearing. during today's hearing, the committee will hear from a wide variety of americans who support legalizing immigrant farmworkers including farmers, farmworker advocates and secretary of agriculture. secretary vilsack dshgs you no he this is the first time the secretary of agriculture's testified before the you dishl committee in more than 20 years? i don't know what that secretary said but we're glad to have you here. to day and thanks for your historic appearance. i have a little video that precedes this and i'd like to ask that it be shown. it really reflects the reality of the work our immigrant farmworkers do to keep our food on the table.
>> my name is -- and i'm proud pob tart of a family whose labor feeds this nation. >> no matter rain, wind, hail, they're out there producing our food for us. >> even on the hot ground without shade for hours and moving down the rows with hands and knees. the. >> if you had watermelon on the fourth of july, can you thank those that are hard at work in 105 degree weather. >> farmworkers face tough conditions even in good times. but during the pandemic, they were deemed essential and kept working even though many lack the basic safety net they need if they got sick. people who literally keep the country fed. >> we fed farmers that i know take their own lives. a lot of farmers with really high stress. >> the truth is you leave with fear that you can make your
children, your families sick. >> if you think about it, about the virus, that's a wildfire. we're dry tinder. >> some workers trying to cope with illness and economic hardship even while fearing deportation. >> workers from mexico were stuck at the border. the that one day cost him and his family their entire asparagus profit for the year. >> to understand the ramifications, of what's going on at the border and lack of labor at the country. our work is essential. >> farmers are port of that group. we went to the base of the safety net. >> they're picking the food on your dinner table. >> wherever i go, i see the people eating the food that we have harvested. >> my parents and i have not stopped working in the fields
despite deportation. >> agriculture in general deserves reform. >> the food supply depends on these workers. >> during this pandemic we've been forced to face the reality that our food supply chain depends to a great extent on the labor of immigrants. and every step of the food production process from the moment a crop is planted to the moment grocery bags handed to us, there s. a worker that plays a critical role in feeding our families. the food processing plants can be dangerous. i know a bit about that, probably more than some senators. back when i was working many i way through college a few years ago, i worked for a meat packing company in east st. louis, illinois, hunter packing company. i was paid $3.65 an hour which was a pretty good rate. i stood elbow to elbow with the
other workers on the assembly line as thousands of pounds of meat came marching nonstop down the conveyor belt. as summer help for four years, came to work the worst jobs in the packing house. under our union contract, an eight hour workday meant processing 1,760 hogs. 220 an hour. speeding up the overhead chain line meant building up numbers in the case of regular breakdowns. the work was hot, exhausting, dirty, and dangerous. and my home state of illinois, the jobs that these meat and poultry processing plants are still exhausting, dirty and dangerous. the next time you put a pork loin on the grill or chicken tenders in your kids' hands, just remember our foreign born workforce had a lot to do with the fact you have that opportunity. in the decades sense i left the assembly line, food processing
is difficult and dangerous especially because of covid-19. over the past year, the workers who kept our grocery stores shelves stocked endured immense hardship. the pandemic tore through our factories and farms. in these workplaces, social distancing is not an option. whether they're packing meat or picking berries, the workers who supply our food tend to work in confined and crowded spaces. many have been unable to protect themselves from exposure to the coronavirus. according to the environmental working group, farmworkers in more than a dozen states do not have access to ppe or covid-19 testing. it's not uncommon for the workers to be trnted to fields in tightly packed trucks, housed in closed quarters. all of these factors have led to a devastating outcome. more than half a million ag workers contracted covid-19. and during the first year of the pandemic, more than 7,000 farmworkers covid-19. the coronavirus is just one of many workplace hazards these
workers face. they handle dangerous machinery. they experience repettive strain injuries, regularly xboezed to pesticides and now we see in our western states they face sweltering heat farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die from exposure. the workers understand the risks of working on a farm. many of them face another risk, one that is a direct result of our broken immigration system. the threat of deportation. about half of our nation's 2.5 million farmworkers are undocumented. they head to the field every morning to pick the fruits and vegetable that's feed our families. st but despite this essential work, they are at risk of being separated from families. one of the workers was on the video. vincent riez. he is a daca recipient currently studding robotics engineering at bakersfield college in
california. outside of class, he works on a farm in the central valley. he's a member of the united farmworkers. he is also the son of farmworkers. his parents are undocumented. each morning before they head to the field, there is one brief moment they're facing a 14 hour shift many times. the parents hug him tight because they never know if it's the last day they'll be together. when the pandemic bega he and his family were unable to shelter in place. they're designated, critical infrastructure workers by the previous administration. even though they make essential contributions to our country and economy, his parents still live every day in fear of deportation. it is an embarrassment to this great nation we allow this injustice to continue. we in the senate can change it. we can pass legislation that will not only keep hard-working families like his together but strengthen durability and
resiliency of our food chain. earlier this year the house passed a modernization act on a bipartisan basis. this landmark legislation is the product of an historic agreement between farmers and farmworkers. it would fundamentally change the lives of hundreds of thousands of farmworkers who came to our rescue during the darkest days of the pandemic. and it would allow them to continue doing their essential work without fear of deportation. many agriculture stake holders from dairy to specialty crops to livestock have said they're facing serious worker shortages. and that immigrant farmworkers are critical. that's why i cross america both farmworkers and farmers are calling on the senate to pass the farm workforce modernization act. farmworkers not only deserve a path to legal status, they're vital to our nation's economic future. for evidence of that, i look no further than my own state. a few years ago a legislator from my home state said illinois has been a mirror of america.
there is no state i might add that better reflects the diversified nature of america's economy. we have one of the largest metropolitan areas around chicago and 27 million acres of farmland. and over the past couple decades, a troubling trend has emerged in our state. the population growth rate in our urban areas is increased, it is decreased in our rural areas. to put it simply, declining population growth means that in years to come our rural communities are going to have fewer consumers to shop and fewer taxpayers to fund schools and hospitals. and these divergent trends and urban rural population are not exclusive to my state. they pose a long term risk to our nation's health. but the senate can help turn the tide. we can enact reforms to immigration that encourage families to move to the rural parts of o you are state so they can open businesses, restaurants, and shops. and contribute to the economy as consumers and taxpayers.
our farms and communities surrounding them are our nation's greatest assets. let's enact policies that help them to survive and thrive when we debate legislation like the modernization act, what we're debating is the future of america and particularly rural america. let's invest in that future with hard-working good people. with that, i'm going to hand off to ranking member grassley for his opening statement. >> i did not have the same work experience you had, mr. chairman at a packing company. but i can tell you that i can attest to the conditions that you described where you worked because i saw them every day for six years at the packing company in waterloo, iowa. that paid for my college. i thank you, mr. chairman, for holding this hearing. very important. we hear about the lack of labor.
and agriculture even in my state of iowa. i thank secretary vichlt lsack -- vilsack for being here. last month the u.s. customs and border protection encountered 188,829 people at our southern border, 471% increase from the year before. encountered with unaccompanied children were up 102% from last june. family units encountered were up 3,224% from last june. it's clear that we're still facing an on going crisis at the southern border. and as long pastime for this committee to exercise the oversight responsibilities and seek testimony from the secretary of homeland security and other administration officials regarding what they're doing or not doing to address this issue.
with respect to the issue of agriculture labor, it's unfortunate reality that a significant portion of our agriculture workforce is made up of undocumented immigrants. it's also unfortunate reality that the h 2 a program which was set up to secure stable flow of legal agricultural labor into the united states doesn't work well for many employers including in my home state of iowa. i'd like to make three points regarding congressional consideration of agriculture labor reform proposals. first, primary focus of any such proposal should be reforming the h 2 a program to ensure that farmers and agriculture employers have access to a stable and legal workforce. i consistently hear from employers in my home state about the need for congress to improve their ability to get access to labor. this will in part involve
expanding the program to cover year round agricultural industries such as dairy, all animal agriculture and agriculture processing that are currently excluded. i want to emphasize, excluded from the h 2 a program. it should involve streamlining a program, reducing red tape and addressing a very high cost of using the program for many farmers and agricultural employers. we'll hear from some of our witness today about how the farm workforce modernization act, the focus of today's hearing falls short in addressing a number of these issues. second, it is important that any agriculture labor reform and immigration reform more broadly include a robust and mandatory verify component. finally, agriculture labor reform shouldn't include mast
amnesty of current undocumented immigrant farmworkers. we should learn from the mistakes of the past or we're doomed to repeat them. so let me repeat what i learned from the 1986 legislation that i voted for. it was termed the immigration reform and control act. it provided an amnesty to more than 1 million farmworkers under what was called the special agriculture workers program. at that time, the american people were told that the 1986 amnesty bill would be a fix. it creates a program called the certified agriculture workers status that is in many areas, identical to the special agriculture workers program that congress created in 1986. 1986 saw that special
agriculture worker program had an amnesty part it to. it was notoriously riddled with fraud. so i'm going to make some quotes that this isn't just chuck grassley saying it. "the new york times" called the special agriculture program "one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated against the united states government." then congressman now senator chuck schumer said at that time who was -- he was one of the authors of that program in the 1986 bill, he said that it was "too open." it's too open and implied susceptible to fraud. in july 2000 report the inspector general of the department of justice noted that in 1995 management at the then immigration and naturalization service estimated that 70% of
the special agriculture workers applications were fraudulent. on top of being bad policy, a mass amnesty of current farmworkers also does absolutely nothing to address agriculture labor shortages and workforce issues. as we saw in the aftermath of the 1986 amnesty bill, many workers ultimately left the agricultural sector. employers then turned to a new pool of undocumented immigrant workers to replace all the ones who had left. and thus the cycle began once again. i hope that congress will ultimately be able to address agriculture labor reform in a way that breaks the cycle of dependence upon labor that illegally crosses our border and would find legal ways to bring them into the country and thus actually help farm and
agriculture employers get access to the legal labor that they need and even in the state of iowa. i hear this. the bill we're discussing to day doesn't do that. i look forward to working with my colleagues on the legislation that does. thank you. >> thanks, senator. st. >> thank you, chairman, dirbin for inviting me to co-chair this committee and the staff for organizing to day. i often say that no state has more at stake in immigration reform than my home state of california. and it's especially true when it comes to the essential role of farmworkers. california is the agricultural heart of the nation.
more than a third of the vegetables and two-thirds of fruits and nuts come from california. farmers in california not just in california but especially in california struggle every year to hire as many farmworkers as they need to pick major crops. that's been the case since prior to the pandemic. that's why our agricultural industry relied for decades on the labor of immigrants. if we look back at our nation's history and recall that during both or major world wars, immigrants kept our country fed. we recall the program which brought millions of temporary workers to california at the time. we also reflect on the 1960s. when california's immigrant farmworkers led a historic
boycott to fight for safer working conditions. today, an estimated 60, upwards of 75% of california's farmworkers are undocumented. now these dedicated individuals work back breaking jobs for hours on end to give their families a better chance in life and to feed all of our families across the nation. that's why i believe they deserve better wages, better working conditions including overtime pay. but i digress. that may be a subject of a hearing on another day. let's reflect on this last year, year and a half. during the covid-19 pandemic, it wasn't just united states government. let's be clear about this. donald trump's department of homeland security deemed
farmworkers essential workers. think about what that means. formal recognition by the federal government that farmworkers, regardless of immigration status, are critical to our nation. critical to the food supply. critical to our economy. we can't live without them. i think that was the case long before the pandemic but it was formalizeded during the covid-19 pandemic. it's no surprise that despite the challenges of covid-19, farmworkers continue to show up for work. despite the triple threats of the pandemic, extreme heat waves, and record breaking wildfires. because of their presence on the front lines and climate crisis,
farmworkers -- farmworker communities suffered a disproportionate number of illnesses and deaths. but they still continue to show up for work. at the same time, many of these workers face increase risks because of their undocumented status. showing up for work despite living in fear of deportation. to many, we're denied the necessary ppe others unable to seek eligibility because of health care. too many afraid to speak out against the dangerous working conditions for fear of retaliation including but not limited threads of deportation by their employer. more than half a million farmworkers, more than half a
million essential farmworkers per the u.s. government contracted the coronavirus. and thousands of them lost their lives. farmworkers deserve better. they deserve respect. they deserve our gratitude. they deserve security. and they deserve a pathway to citizenship. let's recognize that farmworkers, most of the adults having lived here on average 18 years is a very different group of workers, residents than those that have may have showed up at the southern border in the last couple of months. let's not con flat the two issues addressing the issues at the border, reforming our
amnesty system. it's important. but let's not let that stand in the way of justice for farmworkers and other essential workers. that's why i support the farm workforce act. that is my first bill in the senate. it is fundamentally wrong for the united states government to recognize workers and deem them essential yet deny them legal protections and status at the at the same time. i know that immigrants have always been essential since long before the pandemic. so passing immigration reform that respects the dignity and the worth of all immigrants is also a recognition of their contribution to our economy. and our national security.
so i look forward to today's hearing to hearing from the witnesses and making it clear what congress can do to act to ensure farmworkers have these basic rights and protections. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman for the courtesy of allowing me to make a statement. i agree with the underlying premise of this hearing. immigrant and nonimmigrant farmworkers are essential to agriculture and feeding the united states population. that's why it's so important to take the time to study the deficiencies in the current guest worker programs and to consider needed reforms. farmers and ranchers, producers face labor shortages at home. i hear it all the time from my constituents. and they turned to guest workers to fill needs. according to statistics published by the u.s. department
of agriculture, the number of guest worker positions requested by ag producers has grown from around 48,000 in 2005 to nearly 258,000 in 2019. but as senator grassley pointed out a moment ago, the h 2 a program only fills some of the agriculture communities' labor needs. farmers can only rely on the program for temporary seasonal workers which may work in some places but certainly not in others. dairies, mushroom producers, livestock producers, others with year round needs are left out. producers who have different needs at different times through the season have to submit separate petitions for each arrival date. the h 2 a program again as senator grassley pointed sought cumbersome and expensive for producers. so i look forward to learning from our witnesses today about the changes we can make in the program to better tailor it to
our labor needs. as we consider adjustments, we need to be careful that we don't unintentionally create new problems for our ag producers and ultimately increase prices for american consumers further driving up inflation. i'm concerned that the bill that forms the centerpiece of this hearing, the farm workforce modernization act is not yet have unified support from the agriculture community. in particular, i heard from the texas farm bureau and american farm bureau who expressed concerns and they are seeking some changes in the legislation as currently drafted. i ask unanimous consent that a copy of the letter they sent to you and senator grassley be made part of the record. >> without objection. >> thank you. the current form it is not ripe for legislative action and more work needs to be done to build a
consensus. i'm happy to be a part of that effort. congress created the special agriculture worker program in 1986, many of the workers who received lawful permanent resident status through the program ultimately did not remain in agriculture. the congressional research services attributed that departure from ag labor to the new found eligibility for nonfarm jobs. and it makes sense if people are here legally and they're not required to work in ag jobs, they have the option of working in less challenging working conditions. they're likely to move as the congressional farm -- congressional research services said. so if congress is merely leelizing undocumented farmworker population without addressing the underlying reasons they're unlawful present in the country in the first place and without making the necessary changes in the get worker programs, i fear we would repeat the mistakes of the past.
senator grassley pointed out and create more problems for our ag producers and our food supply. any plan to legalized portion of the undocumented farmworker population must be coupled with a plan to replace those workers. we've been working on the bipartisan immigration talks. i don't believe the bill is currently right for legislative action. we should continue our work to make changes that will allow us to build the necessary consensus. and as we address the broader issue in the study, we need to remain open to making incremental progress on issues like guest worker reform, permanent legal status for daca recipients and the crisis at our border. i've heard concerning reports
that some of our democratic colleagues are considering using a partisan budget reconciliation process to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. it almost surely will not work consistent with the rules of the senate. members of the committee know that immigration laws not written through our arcane budgets procedures and i hope our democratic colleagues will commit to moving through any immigration reforms through the normal legislative process. so it can be truly bipartisan and consensus effort. finally, regarding the border crisis, disproportionately affects my state with 1200 miles of common border with mexico, i'm disappointed we don't have a witness here from the department of homeland security can speak directly to that issue. last month cbp encountered 188,000 migrants along the southwestern border. just a few days ago the center for disease control told us that
93,000 americans died of drug overdoses. mainly from illicit drugs coming across the bored and border patrol were taken off the front lines because they're taking care of unaccompanied children and others claiming asylum. the numbers have only continued to climb. it cannot possibly help that biden administration is also publicly mulling over ending the authority to expel migrants under a public health title 42 in the coming weeks. indeed, the covid-19 positive test rate has surged dramatically as a result of the uncontrolled movement of people across the border without appropriate public health measures being taken. farm and ranch families my state and elsewhere along the border experienced significant damage to their property.
finally, the senator from arizona and i i didn't deuced the bipartisan border solutions act, as you know, mr. chairman, which helped restore order to the border region by establishing a regional processing centers and high traffic areas and by prioritizing migrants asylum claims in the immigration courts. so i hope the committee will not shy away from addressing the crisis on the south west border which i think will be an absolutely essential element of any immigration reform that ultimately can pass congress. i look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance bipartisan immigration and border security solutions. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. senator feinstein asked for a moment for opening statement. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. i appreciate this. this is a really important bill
for california. it's estimated that we have about 280,000 people that would be affected by it. and last year, as you may know, mr. chairman, i did a bill that dealt with this. but it didn't go anywhere. and this year the house has passed this bill. and i really think it has merit and will stand the test of time. it passed with 247-174. it allows undocumented farmworkers who have worked for years in this country, who have paid their taxes, and who can pass the criminal and security background check to legally remain in the united states. and potentially earn a green card. it creates a year round h 2 a
visa category that will help industries like dairy, a big industry in my state, that needs more long term workers. it also creates a pilot program for portable visas that will help states like a big one, california, where workers need to move from region to region according to the schedule of multiple crops. it's a good faith bill that reflects months of careful negotiations between lawmakers, growers, and labor. and all of us know that this isn't easy to do. what i like about it is it's comprehensive in scope. it's measured in its objectives, and it has bipartisan support. most importantly, it gives farmers the help they need and it protects essential farmworkers who work hard to put food on our tables. so i just want to say that
delighted that you scheduled this. i thank you and the ranking member and i strongly support the balanced and thoughtful approach. one step is done because it's effectively passed the house and we might get something done. thank you very much. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman. secretary vilsack, thank you for being here. i have a markup that i have to go to. i'll be there for late into the evening. but this is a very important subject to me. i hadn't intended to speak. but i felt like i had to come down here and weigh in on what i consider to be a very important subject. first off, i think you should be very proud of getting an a rating in your confirmation. 92-7 is a strong indication that republicans and democrats have a lot of confidence in your ability in leading the department. but mr. chairman, i -- i think that it's -- i heard last
night -- i received an e-mail where some pundit on the right says that our immigration negotiation, discussions are dead. that's not true. i heard about a week ago some pundit on the left talking about if we did nothing more than legalize and double salaries of those working in the fields that would fix the problem. that's not true either. what we have is a working group here trying to put together a set of policies that will get the immigrant farmworkers over the finish line. get daca over the finish line. take a look at those who have been enrolled in daca and get them over the finish line and actually work to solve a decade's old problem where we get to the one yard line and we fumble. and we have done that for decades. we made a mistake when we did amnesty as senator grassley talked about without dealing with border security. and i think that we can do it in a way that makes sense. i've had very productive discussions with members on the other side of the aisle that
let's make sure that we got technology and infrastructure to interdict materials, human trafficking but get more people across the border legally every single day. use that same technology to have more guest workers come to this country, work and then go home. i really wonder if it we taken the time to get the guest worker programs right, if many of the people here that we're talking about today who are legally present if they knew that they could come from the country of their burnlg and where many family members live that they would come here and work and go back home and come here and work and go back home again. and in some of them may want to seek a path to citizenship. so we have to recognize that an amnesty for immigrant workers is something that should be on the table for discussion. but to do it in a vacuum and not understand and recognize the need to take care of guest worker programs, we're going to swing and we're going to miss again. we're going to fumble on the 1 yard line again. and if we just simply get in a room together and recognize that
border security is a problem. it's something that we should work on. it can be done on a reasonable basis. it would be done differently. if the numbers in the senate were wrong. and the party and the white house were wrong. different. and the party in the white house was different. but let's play the hand that we're dealt. let's figure out a way to come up with a reasonable way to take care of the needs of the farmers. let me tell what you is happening. one concern that i have with the farm workforce modernization act that some of those on the face support it may not recognize what could happen on the backside. by the way, i have to letters that i would like to enter into the record expressing their concerns with workforce modernization act. >> without objection. >> let me tell the farmers out there. here's got news. those illegally present people are now going to have a path to citizenship. maybe along the lines of daca program which probably makes sense given what senator padilla said about them working here for a decade or more.
so the farmer thinks they've solved the labor problem. only to find out that a provision in the modernization act now accounts for a private right of action for your guest workers where you could be sued. so the good news is you've got -- you've got some stability with the workforce. the bad news is a whole cottage industry is formed. now they have to go and defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits. these are the thing swrez to talk about and things that need to be worked out. i believe it needs to be done. i don't believe in big c. i'm a worder of history. and immigration reform failed miserably every time it's attempted. i use the term little c. i'm prepared to look at the right and the people in the ivory towers that say we don't have a worker problem here. all you have to do is just sure you go out and get that workforce. it doesn't exist. get out of the ivory tower and
talk to the farmers. go talk to a surviving spouse of a farmer who committed suicide because they couldn't make their generations old farm work anymore. and to the left i would say, go to your local harris teeter like i did over the weekend. i went into the seafood section and i saw east coast wild caught shrimp. $12.99 a pound. red shrimp from argentina $8.99 a pound. immigrant farmworkers are essential to feeding america and farmers are essential to feeding america. we have to get the numbers right. but i want to make it very, very clear. i'm not going to stop talking with members on the other side of the aisle who are serious about fixing this problem and willing to accept a compromise that can get 60 votes in the senate and make progress for the first time since queen was still topping the charts.
so mr. secretary, apologize not being here. i have a lot of questions. i would like the opportunity to get with you and talk about these things. i believe you understand these issues. and i know the people in the second panel do. and mr. chairman, i look forward to continuing to work with you to actually come up with a solution and senator feinstein, thank you for the work and collaboration. this is the congress we should get this done. >> senator, thank you. i'm sorry you have a conflict and have to go to another committee meeting. i would like to clarify, there is no news cause of action created in this farmworker modernization act. it codifies an existing cause of an action that is in on the books already. >> i was speaking specifically to the h 2 a program still going to be essential after we make the illegally present population farmworkers because you're going to have some of that population leave the farms after they get citizenship and rightly so pursue their american dream and if we don't have a backstop for
making sure that we have a reliable h 2 a and h 2 b program, we'll have a problem. >> thank you. i might also add in 2005 when the senate was in republican control, it overwhelmingly passed bipartisan reconciliation bill that dramatically increased immigrant green cards. i hope we can find a pathway for a bipartisan effort and i thank you so much for the work that you have put into that. but the reconciliation option was used by the other party in 2005. i now want to welcome u.s. secretary of agriculture tom vilsack. thank you for coming before the judiciary committee. previously served as secretary from 2009-2017 under president obama. worked strengthen the ag economy. rural communities, create new markets for innovation in rural america. he was confirmed as senator till is noted by an overwhelming margin as part of this biden
administration in february. we're going have five minute rounds for the secretary and then the same type of rounds for the second panel which will will come before us. so let me start officially secretary vilsack asking if if you'll stand to be sworn. # do you affirm the testimony you're about to give before the committee will be the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? thank you very much. let the record reflect that secretary answered in the affirmative as i expected. mr. secretary, the floor is yours. >> mr. chairman, thank you very much. and to senator grassley and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. it's only fair since you all are going to ask me questions that i ask you a set of questions at the outset. what industry in the united states basically provides all of the food needs for 323 million americans and still has enough food left over to export nearly 20% to 30% to the rest of the world? what industry basically provides
the opportunity for american families to enjoy something that no other set of families around the world enjoys which is spending the least amount of their disposal income on food? the american family spends approximately 10% of their income on food. the if you go to any other developed nation, you'll see it in the 20% to 25% range and developing countries it might be as high as 50%. what industry supports directly or indirectly 40 million american jobs? and is responsible for nearly 20% of the united states economy according to a recent study? that industry is the food and agriculture industry that we're here to talk about. at the same time, that industry is served by a number of workers and it has been pointed out today that among them are farmworkers. the 2.4 to 2.5 million workers that work incredibly hard and it's been pointed out by this committee are now considered to be essential workers in an
industry that i would articulate and argue is also an essential industry to the future of the united states. who are these people? well, they are indeed people who have been in this country for an incredibly long period of time. the average is roughly 18 years of longevity working in this country. half, maybe as much as 70% of the workers may well be undocumented workers. 38% of them are hispanic or latino. they work long hours. eight, 10, 12, 14 hour shifts five, six, seven days a week. their income on the average is below either at or well below the poverty line. and they are dedicated to family. let me share with you one story shared with me in upstate new york last week at an immigration discussion i had. an individual has worked in this country for 20 years. i asked him what his hope and dream and aspiration was five
years from now or ten years from now. he said, mr. secretary, very simply, i would like to see my family. i said what do you mean? he said i haven't seen my family for 20 years. i'm concerned that if i leave the country i won't be able to get back. so when we talk about family values, i think these farmworkers are folks that understand and appreciate the essential nature of family values. they come up here to make a better living and send resources back to their families with the understanding that they may never, ever see them again. why is that? well, it's in part because we have an uncertain and i think we can argue a broken immigration system. the availability of h 2 a workers is always in question. wage increase or decreases are fluctuating from year to year and uncertain path. there is a cumbersome process involved. they're uneven worker protections and, again, these are separated from families
wlachlt can we do about this? the house of representatives decided to take matters into their hands in march as they did in 2019 bypassing the farmworker modernization act. and this is an act that simplifies and streamlines the h 2 a process and creates a year long workforce opportunity. creates a certified ag worker classification for those that worked in this country for at least 180 days over the last two years. clarifies and defines wage increases and decreases to provide long term stability to producers, improves housing opportunities for workers without burdening the producers with additional costs. phases in a full time e-verify system, streamlines the process for more dispute resolution and emergency appeals from producers and indeed provides a path way to legitimacy after the payment of a fine, taxes, and making sure they can pass a criminal
background check. i'm here today simply to advocate on behalf of american agriculture and these workers to plead with the senate to fix this broken system. to maintain the capacity of this great food and agriculture industry to continue to provide the benefits that we all enjoy in this country. and at the same time, to provide the respect and dignity to the farmworkers working so hard to make this system what it is today. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i might just add that the farm workforce modernization act modn act provides for workers to get a five-year certified worker visa to work in agriculture. if they can establish with that visa that they have had ten years of prior work in agriculture, they can apply for a green card after waiting four years and will wait five more years before naturalization. the criticism that the reagan
administration gave him a status that had them leaving agriculture very quickly seems to be addressed by the timetable a that i have just laid out for you here. if you are in new york, even if he wanted to go through this system in order to become a legal citizen and stop worrying about cross the border and never getting back, as i understand it, if he spent 20 years agriculture. had meets the ten-year requirement. hen he has to wait four more yeerds. then he waits five years to be eligible for naturalization, if he chooses that route. so you have at least a minimum of nine years in agriculture. as i understand it, maybe i'm mistaken, but nine years minimum working in agriculture before citizenship. >> senator, that's correct. i think it's reflective of the
fact this is a compromised piece of legislation where folks on both sides of this legislation gave workers certainly gave, producers gave in an effort to find common ground. >> key point. these two groups have not his tort ically been on the same page. we know that. won't go into that history. it's well dlted. but in this case, they worked out an agreement between them. certainly, the producers understood they need ag labor prp they were prepared to come up with a process to citizenship. but it is over time, even for the veteran farm workers. let me ask you to reflect on a moment your state of iowa, next to my state of illinois, have many things in common in terms of crops we grow and life in our rural communities. would you reflect for a moment on the state of agriculture in iowa as it relates to this issue of migrant farm workers and those who are coming in to take
jobs related to food production? i can tell you that we have a witness in the next panel, thank you for being here, she's from a dairy family. i have had dairy farm rs tell me unless you're lucky enough to have a bunch of kids that want to hang around the farm, by and large, you need workers to come in to milk the cows twice a day to keep the farm operating. same with the orchards. if they don't have workers to come in to pick the crops, they will literally go out of business. one particular owner of an orchard said don't tell me to hire local people. i'm trying to get a high school kid to work in the stand out by the highway where we sell the fruit it's air-conditioned and i still can't get a worker to do it. have you seen the same thing in
iowa? >> i have. and i was thinking of a conversation i had recently with a dairy farmer who indicated he was a third generation, but he said the reality is our family wasn't large enough to be able to deal with the expansion of our operation. so we had to hire additional workers. and they became part of our family. he perceives and sees these workers, the nine people that work on his farm, as his family. that same panel that i listened to included the president of the new york farm bureau as well as representative of the vegetable grower association in new york. they put out an advertisement for additional workers. theyen didn't get a single response. not a sung the person respond to the ad for additional opportunities to work in this industry. so it is clear that this industry is dependent on immigrant workers.
there are numerous examples where requests were made, little response, if any. >> meat and poultry processing industries, in areas of illinois where we have those plants, we also have a remarkably large number of immigrant workers. when i go through a naturalization ceremony, 200 miles south of chicago, it's not uncommon to have two or three from africa who work at the meat processing plant not far from springfield. the same is true of hispanics. >> this is a reoccurring story of our history. immigrant labor does the difficult, challenging work that the rest of us are not interested in doing. they do it well. they have the notion of being able to supplien opportunity for a better life for their family. this is replayed every single day in those meat packing facilities. every single dayen the farm fields.
these people care deeply about their family. they are sacrificing to make sure their family has a better life. that's the story here. >> thank you. senator grassley? >> thank you, secretary vilsack, for being here. while i'm glad to see you here, i'm disappointed that the success tear isn't here as well. it's a major guest worker program that's administered by the department of labor and homeland security and not by your department. if we're going to have a hearing about h 2 a, i would ask him on about a june 3rd letter that he and you, secretary vilsack,
received from the federation and all 50 state farm bureaus relating to the current border crisis and increase immigration illegally crossing our border. and i'd ask to put that letter in the record at this point. it notes that farming and ranching families are baring the brunt of this unprecedented influx and have never seen a more dire situation. the letter went on to say that farming families have experienced damage to their crops and property, which has caused financial hardship. more importantly, the letter highlighted, quote, the security and safety of these families are at stake given the current circumstances, end of quote. the letter concluded by urging the biden administration to, quote, recognize the crisis and take swift action. mr. secretary, since the leter was also addressed to you, i'm
not going to ask you if you read it because you get a lot of mail. but i do direct you to that letter. so this brings me to my first question with you. it's based on the proposition that i adopt know for sure if there's any programs in the department of agriculture that can help these farmers. and i tonight know even if these farmers asked for my help, but is the usda currently taking any action to help farming families who have experienced damage to their crops and property as a result of the border crisis? and if not, did you have any plans to do that? >> senator, we are asking our folks the conservation programs we have could potentially provide some assistance and help in terms of debris removal and repair of fences and so forth that have been damaged. i have seen the letter. i have read the letter.
certainly i talked to the president duval of the farm bureau about this issue on a couple occasions. so taking a look at ways if n which they provide assistance to the families. >> my last subject i'll bring up about access for year-round agriculture employers. this is a major issue for a number of ag industries in our home state of iowa. what are your views on expanding the program to cover year round agriculture workers such as animal agriculture and agriculture processing because right now it's limited to dairy and a 20,000-prn cap. >> i was pleased to see if in the proposal an expansion and a creation of this opportunity. as i understand it, i could be wrong, there's a phase-in of
60,000 additional h 2 a workers. there's a pilot program that focuses on the ability of workers to sort of move around the country of 10,000. i know that dairy is very interested in that long-term year round workforce. they are appreciative of the national milk producers federation is important to this. and 80 groups who have worked with the farm worker unions to work on this bill. so i think there's a process. there's annen opportunity for us to see how that staged in increase works and to determine at that point in time whether or not additional adjustments need to be made. so there is a process and we're appreciative of that. >> i think maybe you just answered my last question, but i want to state it for the record if you have anything to add.
i know you're generally support i-of this legislation, but what is your response to employers including iowa-based employers on our next witness panel, who expressed concern about how the bill addresses access to year round employees and the bill's cap on workers for year round employers? >> the key is to give us ab opportunity to see whether or not this phased in approach works. i would point out there's a number of reforms and streamlining of the process and reduction and online registry, the aublt to not have to have repeat applications to get workforce from time to time during the course of the year. so i think there are a series of important improvements to the system. it could be an opportunity for us to see how this works and if there are problems with that, we can always tweak and modify.
you want to learn to walk before you run. >> sometimes called the super minimum wage. that rate can vary considerably between regions and fluctuate from one season to the next. the farm workers modernization act, if passed, would freeze the rate for one year and put caps on the amount it can go up or down for the next nine years. to make sure growers can anticipate the wages need to pay workers.
>> the current wage rate for those folks earning that wage is roughly $13 an hour, which is significantly below the average wage of a typical american worker. also below the wage that even a worker with a lowest educational level in our economy would earn. again, back to the individuals i talked to in new york, it was interesting to me that they were work for $13 an hour and hadn't had a raise in three years. this does provide some stability and a range in which both producers and workers can work with and i think it also provides and directs me and the department of homeland security to take a look at that calculation and that meth method over that period and to determine whether or not there's a more prm innocent fix that could be put in place. it's an improvement over the current state, which creates uncertainty for everyone. >> well, most farm workers are
already protected by the migrant and seasonal worker protection act, these workers are not. this if passed would change that by expanding mspa to include h 2 a workers. so here are two questions. does the farm workforce modernization act do enough to protect workers from exploitation and abuse by employers? >> i think it provides an opportunity for consistency and clarity in terms of those protections. i think there are additional ways in which this bill provides assistance and help. i mentioned housing in my initial comment. that's in addition to wages and
working conditions these folks deserve decent housing. the bill provides and directs the department of agriculture to invest additional resources that would be provided under this bill. everything about this bill is unbalanced. this represents a very dell indicate compromise between producers and workers. they work long and hard on this. i think it deserves our vote of confidence to allow it to see what works well, what doesn't work. note no bill is ever perfect. i think the fact that this is a compromise between people who historically have had a difficult time finding common ground, we should be encouraging that kind of activity i would think. so time will tell. it's certainly improved where it is today. >> thank you. that's very helpful.
>> senator conyn? >> mr. secretary, thank you for being here today and for your testimony. i particularly appreciate your reaching out to me and other members to see what's possible in this space as a practical person and somebody who has been a governor of the state, you understand the legislative process is perhaps by design difficult. because you have to build consensus and that's always particularly been a challenge in this area. i would share the views that senator tillis earlier expressed where comprehensive immigration reform certainly has never been successful in the time i have been here in the senate. i think the best way for us to try to do this is to take smaller pieces on an incremental basis and find consensus where we can, but then use that as a confidence building measure to then allow us to do other things.
i'm not suggest we stop at the farm labor position, and i asked senator durbin to consider putting a bill in the committee for mark-up on the daca population. 640,000 young people who now have great deal of uncertainty as a result of a federal court decision last year saying the original executive memorandum issued by the secretary during the obama administration was not legally effective to pregnant them a work permit and deferred action. but i want to just have a conversation maybe or at least about the best path forward. i know everybody is frustrated by our lack of progress in the immigration space. our colleagues now apparently are going to rely on the budget
process in order to try to pass immigration reform. i have a different point of view from that of the chairman. the senate rules are not self-executing and the so-called precedent he points to in 2005, there no objection based on the rule. so my personal opinion is, and i think it's shared by many people including the former senate parliamentarian, it's not going to be possible for us to do immigration reform in the context of the budget. which is what our colleagues have in mind. so my simple request would be for you and the administration to continue to work with us to try to do this during the normal legislative ross. i know building bipartisan support for legislation is hard work. that's why so many people avoid
it. except as a last resort. but it's very important, i think, for us to provide some stability to our broken immigration system. i think you used those words. i would agree with you. part of what's happening a at the border right now is simply unacceptable and needs to be addressed. senator cinema, we have introduced a solutions act in order to provide some suggestion to the administration and others about where the administration might listened on that issue rather than try to ignore it, which a appears to be what they are doing now. so i would like to try to find a way to be constructive in this area. it's enormously frustrating because we haven't been successful, but i'm kmitsed to keep trying. i would ask you to continue to work with us and encourage folks on both sides of the aisle as well as the administration to
stay engaged with congress to try to solve these problems through the normal legislative process rather than resort to this partisan budget process, which i believe will have zero percent chance of success. thank you. >> did you have a question, senator? if. >> no. >> your choice. >> it is my choice. thank you. >> senator coons? >> thank you, chairman durbin. and thank you, senator cornyn, for those relaive and direct comments about the importance of our finding a bipartisan way forward. and thank you, chairman, for your continued leadership of a bipartisan group of senators who meet week after week and trying to find a pathway forward. and thank you, secretary vilsack, for presenting so
concisely to us the opportunity we have in front of us with this piece of legislation. legislation hammered out by groups that do not often come to the same table. those representing farm workers and farmers, represent aring very different points of interest. as you pointed out, we owe the food on our tables to the farm workers who have labored during this pandemic in remarkably difficult circumstances. living through, working through extreme weather, working through the challenges of this pandemic and to the farmers who employ them and we have a badly broken immigration system. around farm labor and processing in our country, i can think of no better way to honor the contributions of the essential workers in our farms and in our country than by showing them that their continued hard work under the sun is can earn them a place in our society outside the shadows of being undocumented and disengaged from our communities and our country. so i look forward to working
with you and to both democrats and republicans to try to advance this promising and important piece of legislation. this is an issue close to my heart. in delaware we have one of the greatest consecrations of chicken processing. we grow corn to feed those chickens. 42% of the land area of delaware that's in agriculture. it generates $1.5 billion a year, which is tiny compared to iowa, but big for my state. and we have long struggle thed to come up with the right balance of who is working and how and why. and this would help move that forward. delaware farms do not use a huge number of h 2 a visas, burr they rely on workers to get products to market. the application process is too complex, too kiemtime consuming and in fact some famplers told me they have to hire a
consultant just to get through that process. so farmers agree it's time to modernize and reform this system so we have a legal pathway for folks to come here. i just spent two days in guatemala with a bipartisan group of starts. one of the things we heard from the president to advocates is we need a better legal pathway for folks to come to this country to put pressure back on those trafficking illegally folks into this had country. can you speak to how this bill would address issues like this? >> i would be happy to, senator. thank you for the question. current process requires multiple filings in order to qualify and to obtain h 2 a workers the current process requires if you have a growing season where you want to bring
workforce in and then bring back them at the end of the growing season, tough go through the twice. it also provides classified ads in a series of steps to try to quantify that you tried to hire people from this country. this essentially would provide an online job registry, which would make it easier to satisfy that criteria as well. in that case, it simpifies and reduces the paperwork and burden. i think it reduces the cost associated with the current system. >> you have been the governor of iowa. you have been the secretary of agriculture. you are now again the secretary of agriculture. is it your testimony to us today that this maybe a once in a generation opportunity to make right how immigration and our farming industry and community and society interacts in a way that provides real opportunity for us?
>> for the first time in a long time, i think the country as a whole, not individual senators who understand the prns of this industry, they appreciate the nature of our food and agriculture industry and are appreciative of it. having said that, there are manies a pektss of that system that are broken. just to give you one statistic. 89% of american farms do not generate the majority of income from it the farming operation for the farm family. we have to begin the process of constructing a stronger foundation for this system, and part of that stronger foundation is a better ag worker system. >> let me close with this as the co-chair of the bipartisan chicken caucus. i was proud to work with my colleagues, including a fell low member from south carolina. to include direct payments to chicken growers for the first time. part of the usda's response to
covid-19 tofs broaden in terms of who is eligible and able to work with direct payment programs and for the very first time, contract growers for chicken are included. you want to thank you for working with me on that and for making this critical additional support for farm families in delaware possible. thank you, mr. secretary. >> i understand there's open enroll the for the chicken caucus. >> senator graham? >> you are what you eat. bottom line, i appreciate you coming, mr. secretary. is the southern border secure? >> i think it's fair to say, senator, that there are ways in which we can improve -- >> that's not the question. >> is it secured? if you can't figure this out, is that a hard question? >> it can be a hard question. >> it's not today.
because people came across ab all-time highs with no end in sight. if we legalize one person under this program, which i have been historically for, how will it affect border security? will it be a run on the border? >> i don't believe so. >> you don't believe so? if we give legal status to hundreds of thousands of people without first securing the border there won't be a rush onned bore. >> i don't believe so. >> why? >> in large part the people we're talking about within the workforce are people that have been here for a long period of time. >> do you understand pull factors? >> i understand the nature of this workforce. >> do you understand that if you give legal status to one person without securing the border, you're going to have a run on the border ten times worse. >> i don't believe so. the reason i don't is because i think the primary -- >> i just think that's ludicrous. i have been involved in every immigration bill there's been. we always secured the border first because of this reason.
you don't give amnesty and hope people won't keep coming. we're doing it backwards. mr. chairman, we have had our differences. i like you a lot. we have had two committee hearings about legalizing people. we haven't had one hearing yet about the status of the border. and if you don't believe legalization through daca or ag workers will create a run on the border, you're not listening to the people at the border. when i was chairman, you asked me to have hearings about the status of confinement, the way kids were being treated. we had three different hearings with the department of homeland security acting director so you could ask questions about conditions of confinement and our policies on the border. i have asked for a hearing, senator grassley has asked for a hearing. there's no way we can legalize anybody until we first understand the effect it would have on the border and whether
or not it would insent size vise illegal immigration. and you're a fine man. you're good at your job. but if you can't figure out that legalization without first securing the border doesn't create a problem, you really don't understand this issue. mr. chairman, when you ask me to do things that some of my people didn't want to do, we did it. we had hearingings. it's now time for this committee to have a hearing about what the hell happened at our border. in december 2020 we had the lowest crossings in 45 years. now six months later, we have an explosion of illegal immigration. no end in sight because the policy changes by the biden administration, you believe. but it's imperative that this committee do oversight over a broken border to try to figure out what happened in the last six months. if we did some of the things being suggested by the secretary and other people about legalizing any population, what
effect would it have on illegal immigration? my belief it would lead to an explosion of illegal immigration. if we legalize hundreds of thousands of workers, which i'm willing to do, without first securing the border, you don't believe it would create border security problems? explain that to me. >> do you want an explanation? >> i do. >> i think primary reasons why people are crossing the border is they have a difficult experience economically back home. so first and formost, if you truly interested in securing the border -- you asked me to respond. i want to respond. >> go ahead and finish and i'll follow up. >> fair enough. if you're truly serious about that piece of it, we have to take a look at how we can help create better opportunities south of our border. >> you don't believe catch and release is having an effect on the immigration? >> you ask a question about the
agriculture workforce. >> you answered the key is to give more money to the triangle countries. is that the key? >> the key is helping them build their own economy. >> we have been trying to do that for years. >> i don't know how well we have been trying to do it. >> you don't believe the change in policy has affected a wave of illegal immigration? you don't believe eliminating mexico has affected a surge of people seeking asylum claims? >> that's a complicated issue. >> it's not complicated at all. >> yo know it's complicated. >> it's really simple. >> it's not simple. it's pretty accomplice caughted. >> what has happened in the try act the countries in six months where we within the from the lowest illegal crossings coming from that part of the world to the highest. >> the pandemic and food shortages. >> so that's what you believe.
it's not changing the policy of remain in mexico, abolishing the idea you have to wait in mexico. you're not released into the country. you can't figure out when the biden administration cancelled remain in mexico, they will let you come in the country and release you and you never show up for your hearing, that catch and release program. have you ever talked to the border patrol about that and had a discussion about the pull factors for the border patrol? have you ever had one? yes or no? >> yes. >> when? >> my first stint. >> when was that? >> i adopt remember the year, sir. >> in the last ten years? >> it may have been. >> the last year? >> no. >> go talk to them and you'll find out how wrong you are. if you talk to them. >> the last committee hearing was on a subcommittee on january 16th, 2018, two and a half years
ago. president biden has been in office officially yesterday i think six months. so in terms of oversight of the department of homeland security, there is a record of a hearing two and a half years ago. i would also add that i called this hearing because most americans will be sitting down to dinner tonight and through the weekend and enjoying food that's being picked to a large part by migrant farm workers. we're trying to figure out a way to deal with this. if the premise is we can't do anything on immigration until we do everything on immigration, we'll be right where we have been for 36 years. doing nothing. >> may i respond? >> you may. >> on march 6, 2019, we held an oversight hearing with customs and border protections responding to those smuggling a persons at the border. we had ab oversight hearing best
practices for incarceration and detection during covid-19. we have had i called the dh secretary twice because you are concerned about families being separated. so was i. you cannot understand this issue until you have a hearing on the border and how legalization would affect the wave of illegal immigration. if you don't secure the border first, then you're going to incentivize more illegal ill grags. that's why every bill we have worked on had border security as the first thing, and to the secretary of agriculture, you're a fine man. i want to work with you, but you need to talk to border control. if it you spend 15 minutes talking with them, they will tell you that the pull factors have been created in the last six months. if we legalize one person, the worst is yet to comp. >> i standby my statement. the last oversight hearing was two and a half years ago. there have been specific issues that have been raised. i will tell you and you know as well as i do, when we worked on
the gang of eight to put together a bill, it includesed a dramatic commitment for border skrurt. more money than any of us ever imagine. it was not approved on the house side when the other party was in control. i'm just loathe to accept the premise until you solve everything you can't discuss anything. i want to do what's right by the farm workers and border security. i don't think they are exclusive. i think they can be done together. the next question comes from senator cloeb chaur, who is joining us virtually. >> thank you very much. i was thinking back to all the work that you and the early days senator graham did on immigration. in fact, i remember as a brand new senator the work that was being done when president bush was in to try to get ill grags reform passed. those bills were a path to citizenship bills. as you noted, it included a lot
of security money for the border. and some oi my earliest memories are of the secretary coming in and meeting with senator georgia graham and mccain and a number of democrats involved in the effort. i got to be there as part of history. i vowed we would get this done. then when president obama came in, again, supported by a number of republicans and finally passed in the u.s. senate with senator grassley's support. we passed immigration reform. and the time is now. i want to get back to what the core is of this. for me, it comes down to, yes, there are moral issues. yes, there are humanitarian issues, but for me in my state, it's economic issues. that's why i think you're here, secretary vilsack. my state has a strong economy relatively low unemployment rate. we don't have enough people for
the work that needs to be done. it's really that simple. not in our resorts and most significantly not in our ag areas. and for certain agricultural employers like dairies, which has been pointed out, pork producers, forestry, seasonal visas just don't meet the needs. that's why i'm a fan of this year-round proposal. it's part of the immigration reform a act that i'm a co-sponsor of with senator menendez. it's also the work that came out of the house. can you talk, mr. secretary, about the challenges faced by dairies and pork producers when they are trying to meet their year-round workforce needs when they just have one of these seasonal visas? i'd like to hear it from you from the ground. >> they simply can't find the workers. the result is they either have to reduce the amount that they are producing or they have to destroy that which they have grown because they don't have
enough pop to pick and harvest. this is an issue that goes to the heart of our food supply. it goes to the heart of our capacity to have choice in the grocery store. it goes to the ability to have affordable food for all our country and our ability to, port, which supports millions and millions of jobs. so at the end of the day, you need workforce to be able to do that. you need a stable and secure system to plan ahead so you can determine whether or not you are able to expand. able to buy that additional tarm. able to expand by buying and expanding your herd. farmers can't do that today. they don't have the security and the stability of a system that works. >> i know we have democrats and republicans representing agricultural areas. i know in the house the bill that passed was bipartisan. it got significant republican support. where is that republican support coming from?
if you listen to senator graham right now, you would think there's no movement on immigration. i know the opposite from talking to my colleagues. >> the folks who worked on this compromise on the producers side and the processors side and on the labor side represent the entire political spectrum of this country. conservative producers in the south, those representing the unions, they came together a as a compromise bill and an effort to move this forward to strengthen the foundation. i think that's the reason why you saw bipartisan support in the house because they knew there were 80 different separate agricultural groups that felt this was a good idea and felt this was necessary to get done now. >> as a member of the ag committee in addition, i have heard from many swapt farmers and groups about the delays in processing of the agriculture
visa applications that can have a devastating effect, payments are delayed, invest thes need to be put off. how would viewsing by streamlining the application process benefit farmers and consumers. >> it would reduce costs and provide for a better understanding and a timely nature of a workforce that is very important that it be timely. at the end of the day, deading upon when you're harvesting, it will depend on the quality of what you're able to sell. it means real money for farmers to be able to have that stable and secure workforce on time. >> last question. going the next step from the bill that just passed and then to the larger idea of pathway to citizenship n a previous hearing in the immigration subcommittee, a republican witness dr. douglas
testified about the economic benefits not just to affected imgrants, but to all americans of a pathway to citizenship. to qualify, the farm workforce mod en earnization act requires that an immigrant pay federal taxes. how would expanded tax revenues for state and local governments benefit all americans? >> they fund a lot of government responsibilities. so you have additional resources, you can keep the tax base lower for everyone and you cannen continue to have the essential services people depend on. so it makes sense for folks to come out of the shadows to pay their taxes without fear of deportation or without fear of disruption of the farm.
>> that's why when you look at the incredible debt reduction, you'd get with comprehensive um immigration reform, it was one of the big benefits. grover norquist focused on the ill grags bill because of the debt reduction you'd see and the enormous benefit to taxpayers. with that, i'll turn it back to you. thank you for allowing me to appear remotely today. >> senator cruz? >> thank you, mr. chairman. the biden border crisis keeps getting worse. every day it is getting worse. in my home state of texas on the southern border, we have seen over a half million illegal crossings this year. we are on a pace to have over 2 million people cross the border illegally. and this is the direct result of
decisions made by joe biden and kamala harris. three decisions made in the opening week of this administration caused this crisis. number one, the first week in office joe biden immediately halted construction of the border wall. number two, he reinstated the failed policy of catch and release. and number three, most indefensibly, he ended the incredibly successful remain in mexico international agreement. remain in mexico was an agreement president trump negotiated with the government of mexico that said that those people who cross into mexico illegally would remain in mexico while their cases are pending in the united states. and it worked tremendously. last year we had the lowest rate of illegal immigration in 45 years. this year we have the highest rate of illegal immigration in over 20 years.
the people of texas, i'm hearing from people all across texas. go to texas and talk to mayors and democratic mayors on the border that are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people coming across. talk to farmers and ranchers who are dealing with coyotes, crossing their land on a daily basis, trafficking people, trafficking drugs. talk to landowners like one rancher i know who had his ranch house broke into and spray painted on the walls. and the answer from the biden administration is theyen don't care. i have to say, mr. chairman, it is painful to say the answer from the democratic judiciary committee is the democratic judiciary committee doesn't give a damn. we're not having a hearing about the crisis on the southern border.
this is the not first wearing we have had. this is not the second. this is the third hearing we have had on amnesty in six months. these hearings are part of the problem you know what? all across the world people are hearing senate democrats saying we're in the business of amnesty. little boys and girls are getting physically assaulted by drug traffickers. when i led a group of 19 senators down to the border, with us saw one 11-year-old girl who had been raped by the traffickers coming across. on the rio, we saw the body of a man who had drown crossing the river. and the answer tragically from the judiciary committee is they don't give a damn. we spent four years listening to
democrats run to tv cameras talking about kids in cages. there are more cages and they are more full today. joe biden is running the cages that are packed with kids at the facility built for a thousand people with covid restrictions, its capacity is 250 people. when we were down there, there were over 4,000 people in that facility. 1, 700% its capacity. the biden cages, child after child, packed in there, little boys, little girls, not six feet apart as you'd want in a pandemic. not three feet apart. they weren't even three inches apart. they are next to each other. they are sleeping on the floor, no beds, no mats, no cots, wrapped in reflective emergency blankets.
the time we were there the covid positivity was over 10%. and the biden administration is rereleasing illegal aliens into our community who are covid positive. it is irresponsible, it is wrong and every democrat who said to a tv camera kids in cages, kids km cages, why doesn't this committee have a hearing on the biden cages? instead we have a hearing with the secretary of agriculture. mr. secretary, if it we were having a hearing on the of the mum for the liezer for growing corn, i think you might be a very good witness. does the did the of agriculture secure the border? >> we're not responsible for the law enforcement aspect of this. >> so no. >> allow the witness to answer. >> my question was do you secure
the board. the answer is no. do you run the cages? >> no. >> do you prosecute the traffickers? >> no. >> are you the attorney general? >> no, sir. >> are you the secretary of homeland security? >> no. >> with all due respect your answers on immigration were fertilizer. they were nonsense. you said why are we seeing this crisis? your answer was poverty. there's 7 billion people on plan the earth, many of whom were poor. they were poor last year. we had the loi rate in 45 years. what's changed? this administration refuses to enforce the law and texas is paying the price for it. that's what's changed. the other answer was the pandemic. last year there was a pandemic and we had the lowest rate of immigration in 45 years. poverty didn't magically appear on january of 2021. the pandemic didn't appear on january 2021. what appears was joe biden and
kamala harris and policies that are inhumane, that are cruel and that are failing. >> senator, was the border secure last year? >> last year it was the most secure it's been in 45 years. >> why didn't you all pass the modernization last year after it passed the house? you're telling me it has to secure the border before we pass this. >> i'm not lindsey graham. there's been democrats and republicans who support amnesty. i ain't one of them. i get that you want amnesty. i get that your view is come to measuring. forget the legal processes. >> i want to workforce that's going to continue to support the greatest agriculture and food industry in the world. that's what i'd like to have. >> i thought you wanted him to respond. >> senator, you have taken any other time. will you please wrap up. >> this is a crisis. this administration caused it.
and this committee doesn't even care to have a hearing on the suffering that is happening at the border that is caused by policies that don't work. >> thank you, senator cruz. senator padilla is off to vote, so he will preside at that point and ask questions. i thank the senator for his patience. i'm sorry. i'm getting virtual information here. i understand that senatorbooker is available. >> yes, i am. i'm really grateful for you recognizing me. i'm also grateful for the secretary of agriculture. he and i have haven't always agreed, but he's a man of civility and dignity and he's open to all senators to engage in dialogue. especiallien things we agree on in this country and need to move forward. so i want to give him a tribute. i know these hearings aren't
always easy, but he has been so accessible in having substantiative conversations about issues that matter to millions of more thanes and worked very hard with me and others to find common ground. today is a day that i just especially want to celebrate his dignity and civility and willingness to roll up his sleeves and work with anybody. there are 2.4 million farm workers in the united states. three quarters of them are foreign born. half of them are undocumented. it's really undenial that america relies on immigrants, documented and undocumented, to keep food on our tables. from my vantage point, the issues have numerous implications. the sources of our food have humanitarian implications, economic, health and even discussed national security. so my first question is what concerns you most right now about this labor crisis in the
agriculture sector? what are some of the things that are sort of having you worried and concerned? >> a couple things. first of all, obviously, always concerned about safety and protection of workers to make sure that they are in safe and decent working conditions. but to the extense tent that we don't fix this broken system, it compromises the ability of us to continue to have this incredibly strong food and agriculture industry. it compromises our ability to have supply. it compromises our ability to have choice. it compromises our ability to have less, pensive food in the grocery store. it compromises our ability to have jobs that are connected to these workers when they pick the fruit. it has to be processed, canned, transported, stored, shelved, all of those are jobs that are connected to their work.
so it has a rippling impact and effect on the economy. if we fix this system, then we have stability in that food and ag sector, which obviously provides enormous choice for consumers, less, pensive food and brt jobs and better protections for workers. >> thank you, sir. you know i have a tremendous concern about the growing corporate consolidation in our food system. it's stunning now that about four companies control 90% of the global grain market. the top four beef packers in the united states now control 85% of the beef market. we have seen the stunning disappearance of family farmers being driven out of business as the market power of these large multinational corporations have transformed american agriculture in a matter of decades. i just want you to know that this is an ongoing crisis. i'm wondering it you could just
give for the record your opinion on what that market consolidation the kind of impact it's having on small family farmers. >> i know if you were with us earlier when i indicated 89.6% of american farms todayen don't produce the majority of income for the farm families that operate them. which means these people have to work two or three jobs to continue to do what they love to do. that's one of the reasons why the president signed the executive order on competition. it's one of the reasons we recently announced utilizing the rescue plan resources to expand processing capacity so we have a more transparent, more competitive and open market for our producers. it's one of the reasons why the executive order also directs us to take a look at this issue of consolidation in the seed industry, which we intend to do. all of it is designed to provide opportunities for more competitive markets for farmers to get better prices and to make sure that the inputs that go into the prediction of crops and livestock are reasonably priced and obtained in an open market
way as well. that's my concern. we have to make sure that folks at every level we support diversity and agriculture, the size of operations, the producers, the method of production, i think diversity is a great strength and want to see our systems stronger and more resill gent. >> i thank you for your time. i'm going to end with a few seconds left and turn it back over to my friend and chairman dick durbin. thank you. >> thank you very much, senatorbooker. senator kennedy? >> thank you, mr. chairman. welcome, mr. secretary. i know you want to see our farmers prosper. you want to see our farmers prosper. it appears that -- and of course, to prosper, our farmers need labor. and it appears that many of the people who are new to our
country want to work as farm laborers. and that's a good thing. and i know there's shortages in that respect. and it seems to me that we ought to figure out a way to work together to achieve that end. the problem, as you know, is in our immigration policy. and normally, i ask questions, but i just want to spend a second telling you where i come from. i don't completely understand it. our border is not secure. it's less secure today than it was in december. if you go down there, you'll see
that. i think we could secure it. americans have done extraordinary things. and we can take a diseased human heart and replace it with a new one and make it beat. we can send a person to the moon. i suspect we can secure the border. and it seems to me until we do or certainly get it more secure than it is now, that am necessity is not going to the pass in the senate. and here's what perplexes me. many of my friends who don't support securing the border, not all of them, but many of them say that vetting people at the border is racist.
now i think it's prudent. and i think most americans think it's prudent. but i can understand the racist charge, i wouldn't agree with it, but i could understand it if we didn't have such a robust legal immigration program. we admit about a million of our world's neighbors to america every year to become citizens. more than any other country. so when we make a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration. and i think most americans think illegal ill grags is good and legal immigration is bad. it's not because they are racist. i think most americans see our border is sort of america's front door. and most americans lock their own frant door at night. they adopt do that because they
hate everybody on the outside. they do that because they love the people on the inside, and they want to know who is come ing into their home. they don't the to just keep everybody out. they just the to know who is coming into their home. and that's the way i look at the border. and i don't understand why we can't do that. and i know it's not in your purview, but i don't understand why the biden administration doesn't reimpolicemen the remain in mexico program. it does work. it can stem the flow. >> can i ask a question about what you just said? >> sure. >> several speakers have suggested this this is a about a amnesty. and i'm puzzled by that. the reason i'm puzzled by that is this. i used to practice, and i know you're a lawyer by training, i
used to practice in a small town. i did a little criminal work. a guy would come in, be charged with some petty crime. would go in front of the magistrate. the magistrate would say here's the deal. if your guy pays a fine, pays court costs, we'll put him on probation and we'll let him go. now i don't think -- i didn't perceive that to be amnesty. that's a system that basically created providing something of value. either you provide your time, by being locked away or pay a fine. or in some cases you do both. >> yes, sir. >> so, when this bill provides are the payment of a fine up to $1,000, i don't understand how we're talking about amnesty.
>> because it is amnesty. i think most americans see it as amnesty. i see it as amnesty. they see it as you came into our country illegally, you didn't follow the law, as many people do, wait in line, fill out the forms. and now, by just paying a fine, you get to jump the line and they know what is going on at the boarder right now and people are pouring across. there's a lot of reasons for it. but i know it could be slowed down. as a practical matter and as a principal matter, i'm not going to support any form of amnesty. you and i may disagree on the definition, until i see a concerted effort to secure the boarder. and clearly there isn't one.
i've been down there. i don't know if it's politics or what but i know we can do better because in december we were. >> but yet, even though that was the case, there was no effort in the senate to pass this bill before. >> well, it's not just as simple as saying, well, the boarder -- we hood had done a better job in december. the american people -- this is what they want to see. they don't trust washington. there's a reason why part of us poll up there with skim milk. the american people don't trust us. and they want to see a boarder secured. they want to see a good-faith effort on both sides to make sure it's secured for an extended period of time. yes, it was more secure in
december than now. you can disagree with that. but many of my democratic friends completely bashed every chance they got the trump administration from doing that. and so there was no feeling among american people that this is going to be sustained. i think if we had a bipartisan effort to really secure the boarder as best we can for a sustained period of time, you would see the american people very sympathetic to a discussion of amnesty. and drafting an immigration policy that looks like somebody designed it on purposes. >> thank you. >> thank you for your indulgence, mr. chairman, and thank you for being here, mr. secretary. governor, whatever i should call you. >> thank you. i preside as senator durben is off to vote.
he'll return in a few minutes. it's also my opportunity to ask questions, before recognizing senator osof. but first, a couple of points of clarification. i think some of my colleagues, to their statements have caused confusion. not sure if it's intentional or unintentional. could you clarify for everybody watching us today are you the secretary of homeland security or of agriculture? >> i'm the secretary of agriculture. >> that's what i thought. so, i will focus my questions appropriately so on issues of agriculture and agriculture industry and your portfolio of responsibility. second, i just feel compelled to respond to some of the comments some of my colleague on the republican side of the aisle have made regarding the
appropriateness considering the reconciliation process to advance the elements of the farm workforce modernization act or other elements of reform. their suggestion this is best done by bipartisan negotiations, which, if i felt they would be fruitful, i would welcome. it's not like we haven't been trying for the last six months. but it's clear that while some of our colleagues say i support this, that, farm workers, dreamers, they're quick to raise excuses and pretext for why we can't do anything. and finally, can't help and observe the contradiction. i believe it was senator durben described senator graham's comments as it makes no sense to say we can't do anything unless we do everything. while senator till and others have said you try to do everything and we've been unsuccessful for years and years and years.
so, let's ratchet down the scope to more of a piece meal approach. you can't have it both ways. california produced $50 billion in agricultural commodities, california alone. the state is also a major exporter of agricultural products and makes up 56% of total export products, totaling $1.27 billion and more than one 3rd of fruits and nuts are grown in california, including nearly 90% of u.s.-grown straw buries. yet, california and other states across the country are facing the chronic labor shortage you spoke to already. they estimate that in total u.s. agriculture needs 1.5 to 2 million hired workers each year
but farmers are struggling to fill these positions. in 2019, prior to the pandemic, 56% of california farmers reported being unable to find all of the workers they needed for their main crop over the last five years. again, that was prior to covid. mr. secretary, about 400,000 workers represent california's agricultural workforce. upwards of 75% of these workers are undocumented. given the over representation of undocumented immigrants in this industry, how could providing a pathway to legalization for farm workers bolster the u.s. economy and trade relations? >> it would provide stability to western growers, senator and that's one of the reasons why the western growers have been at the front of an effort to try to get this compromise formed and ultimately through the house and into the senate.
i think they recognize that, with that stability they could plan, make determinations about expansion opportunities, figure out ways in which they can be more productive, which creates more opportunities for, not only domestic consumption but imports and supports all of the jobs in the supply chain resulting from the fruit being picked and grown in your state. number one agricultural state. so, anything you can do to benefit and expand opportunities in california willival a positive impact generally. and agriculture is roughly 20% of american economy. in the end of the day, it would provide for a more stable american economy. >> appreciate your description on the benefits of this action that become law. can you shed more light, describing in more detail, short of passage, what some of the
challenges, operational and otherwise, in the agricultural sector, because of reports already state snd >> average age of the american farmer is nearly 60 years of age. many farmers are now trying to determine what they do next, in terms of the next generation. if they don't feel they have access to additional workers, they may constrain the size of their operations. and at the end of the day, they may not be able to support as many families as necessary in the family farming operation, that may result in the sale of the lands and reduction of agricultural activity and land in the country. we lose about 2,000 acres of lands every day already. so, that would potentially see an acceleration of that. and ultimately, over time, if we don't deal with this issue and provide stability, over time,
we'll continue to see the economic challenges of agriculture continue to mounlt. and eventually, it could compromise the security we enjoy, which is tool produce all the food we need and for exports. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, secretary, villsack for your services and testimony today. farm workers across the country make it possible to feed the american people and, indeed, for the united states to help feed the world. and yet the stories i've heard from so many farm workers are truly appalling. 20-hour shifts. folks sleeping in vans, exposed to extreme heat, exposed to
pesticides and fertilizers without adequate protection, making very little money, often paid less than minimum wage. often subject to other forms of abuse and harassment. do you believe these conditions do prevail, as i've heard from so many farm workers in too many places across the country? and what policy reforms must congress enact in order to insure that those working in the fields to feed our country are treated with the respect and dignity every human being deserves? >> senator, the farm workforce modernization act does provide an opportunity for additional support for these farm workers. it obviously provides an opportunity for them for decent housing. it creates the ability to insure they have adequate opportunities
for protections in the event they get hurt in workers compensation, things of that nature. it reforms the h 2 a system so that more folks can benefit from that system. it makes if easier for farmers to utilize that system. more than 50% come from your -- at the end of the day, it create a mechanism by which people understand what their rights are, are able to protect themselves through normal processes. there's a mediation process. there's a shortening, if you will, of the ability to raise concerns about working conditions so that people can get relief sooner. there are a series of steps. again, this is a compromise bill. i think it's important to
emphasize the fact that they've come together to support this bill because they understand how central it is to a stronger and more stable farm economy. i would hope that what you've explained are very limited circumstances in agriculture today. and the hope would be with this act, that we receive even fewer circumstances. >> of course the pandemic has put tremending strains on agriculture supply chains. but looking at the bigger picture, what are some of the most significant challenges that, in your view, georgia farmers and farmers across the country face in their efforts to hire farm workers? >> it starts with a cumbersome process, a lot of paperwork, not the use of digital technology to
make it safer and easier. and that makes it more difficult to get the workforce on a more timely basis. it starts there. and the reality is timing matters. timing is everything in agriculture. it impacts and effects the quality of what you produce. and that, in turn, in pacts the price you get in the market. in turn creates challenges for farming operations. to the extent we have a stable and secure system that's predilktable, it allows farmers and ranchers and producers to be as efficient and profitable as possible and creates the protections we talked about as workers. insures decent housing, things of that nature, for our farm workers that work incredibly hard. and i think it sends a message about the significance of the workforce from a perspective of respect.
i think for far too long we've taken these people and those in our processing facilities for granted. we've not paid as much attention to them as we need to. but when it came to protecting our food supply in the height of the pandemic, those folks showed up and they showed up at the risk of their own lives, and did so, in large part, because they were motivated by making sure they could take care of their families. and that's a value system i would hope we would continue to support in this country. >> well said, mr. secretary and we should be guided by our human rights to every individual and these farm workers deserve far better. grateful for your recent trip to georgia, your visit in particular to fort valley state university and your continued expressed commitment to georgia farmers. will you commit the next time you come to georgia you'll sit down with me, local agriculture
leaders, as well as those leading georgia's trade efforts? we have the port of savannah, one of the fastest growing ports in the country -- to show how we can export around the world? >> if you sweeten your deal with a slice of pecan pie, it's a deal. >> it's a deal. >> let the record reflect the commitment that's been made here today. i want to thank you for joining us, grateful for your testimony. we'll proceed the second panel. senator durben has returned. i'll return the gavel for him to introduce the witnesses for the second panel. please come forward at this time.
special thanks to the secretary of agriculture. and i think it's been 20 years since he's prepared me for the judiciary committee. and thank you for your services to our country. we have a second panel coming up. and i'll tell you who they are. rene custra is from my home state of illinois. they operate a grain farm in wood stock. they were dairy farmers for 30 years. it's one of the highest producing farms in illinois. good for you. received several awards for production in milk quality. second we have arturro
rodriguez. your almost legendary status. we're honored that you're here. amaritous of american farm workers of america. spent 45 years with the vfw, the last 25 as our president. continuing to build the union caesar chavez began. i have a confession, mr. meyers, my television appetite starts with the bears, obviously chicago bears, baseball, politics, news, and cbs sunday morning, which i hardly ever miss. i happened to see that show, i think it was two weeks ago, maybe three and i said to my wife, this fella, meyers, i would like to have on a panel because a powerful presentation that you made. mr. meyers is third generation farmer and the ceo of awahi
produce, based in idaho. and honorable leon -- did i pronounce your name correctly? thank you. is a witness brought before us by senator grassly. and he's not here at the moment. mr. sequeira is a lawyer with two decades of experience in public and law policy. provides counsel on several things, including immigration. during your career, in and out of government, you advised house and senate offices, cabinet and the white house, served as assistant secretary of labor at the department of labor under president george w. bush and legal counsel to the senate republican leader, mitch mcconnell. oh, okay. and the other witness is suggested on the republican side, who will be with us
virtually, is miss jen sorenson, grew up on a hog farm in southeast iowa and went on to receive degrees from animal science and journalism from iowa state. farming business markets more than 5 million hogs per year, vice president of the iowa pork producers. she worked for iowa select farms the last decade. prior to that, in the communications department of iowa pork producers, kristenson farm and finally manages all activities of the foundation started in 2006, designed to show tribute to men and wem on of the armed forces. they live in iowa. we're going to start this panel with rene.
please raise your right hand. all raise your right hand. do you affirm the testimony you're about to give to this committee be the whole truth and nothing but the truth? let the record reflect they answered in the affirmative. each of you has five minutes, then some questions. >> good morning. i guess it's maybe good afternoon. chair durben, ranking member grassly and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. my name is linnea koostra. my husband and i were dairy farmers for more than 30 years and both raised on dairy farms. years ago, labor was provided by family members. but hired labor has become a critical part of the business. our dairy herd included 300 cows
and 250 young animals. three full-time employees. about 2,000 we switched to an immigrant workforce. we had a lot of frustration with our labor pool. it was hard to find employees willing to be at the farm 4:00 in the morning to milk cows. our day started at 4:00 and finished 7:00 p.m., 7 days a week. after switching to an immigrant workforce, our lives became much easier. our people were loyal, dedicated workers. they were excellent with the cattle, hard working and honest. they were also highly skilled and well trained. we were extremely proud of our team. our decision to sell our cows in 2018 was, in part, because we were worried about losing our workforce. the atmosphere regarding immigrants in the workforce was hostile.
we knew we could not run this business without them. and at our age, we decided to sell the cows. this was definitely not an easy decision. i'm here to tell you how essential these workers are to all dairy farmers. and critical to our nation's food supply. 51% of the labor on dairy farms is from immigrants. the dairy farms that employ immigrant labor produce 79% of the u.s. milk supply. these are not jobs that are displacing other workers. i ran my dairy farm with my husband for over 40 years. and i can decisively say that the domestic workers just aren't there. even with good pay and benefits. our dairy farmer friends are telling us the situation has gotten worse since we left the industry. they're in crisis mode today and i say that with a capitol "c."
the farm families are working to the point of exhaustion, which has a direct impact on the quality of the work. they are sacrificing a great deal because there are just not enough workers to serve the labor needs on farms. i'm worried about the toll on their physical and mental health. dairy farmers are resilient. creative problem solvers, but they cannot fix this problem. only you can fix it. this labor shortage will not go away after the covid recovery. the urgency of the workforce crisis cannot be over stated. dairy farmers are in a difficult spot because they cannot supplement their workforce with h2a employees. visas do not work for dairy farms because they need qualified year-round employees. i'm here to plead with you to help the industry i love 367.
one farmer told me he's starting to think of robotic milkers but says the cost is astronomical and he does not know huh he can pay for it with his 500 cows. if the u.s. dairy industry lost its foreign workforce, it would nearly double retail milk prices and cost the u.s. economy more than $32 million, according to a study by texas a&m university. these are the choices. do we want the food produced in the country where we have the safest food supply in the world? the labor crisis on our farms is an issue of national security. and it must be addressed now. this will require two critical reforms. first, we must protect our workers. they are critical to our nation's food supply and they are good human beings. second, we must reform h2a, so
dairy farmers have meaningful access to a meaningful, agricultural guess work program. the bill would make progress towards achieving both goals. i just bleed with you, please come together on a bipartisan basis, as the houses did. reform our immigration policies so that today, and into the future, we can continue to feed our nation with a reliable work and have a abundant and safe food supply. >> thank you. mr. rodriguez. >> thank you, chairman durben, ranking member grassly and members of the committee. i sit before the you as
amaritous president of american farm workers. for nearly two decades we have been working tirelyly to achieve farm worker utilization and reform the visa program, efforts not possible without the leadership of senator fine stein. the ag industry and food security rely on praxly 2.4 u.s. farm workers and 8% are workers here in h 2 a visas. there are more than 1 million farm workers. to feed the nation, farm workers works to limits of their endurance. they work with dairy cows for milk production, tend livestock for our meat and plant, tend, and harvest fruits and vegetables. today we have with us five women joined with me today, sitting
right behind me. claudia, lupita from michigan, and santiago, and from georgia. some of them started working in agriculture as young as five years old. collectively, the five women behind me and immediate family members have more than 220 years in agriculture. their families make it possible for americans to have food on their tables and that's why we're here today. because their families have earned a path to legalization. lack of legal status, the isolated nature of agricultural work and a shameful history of excludeing the industry from basic labor laws makes farm workers vulnerable to a range of abuses. the hrksz2a program is think alled to the highest number of documented human trafficking cases, cases that occurred in
every state represented in this committee with georgia, california, north carolina, louisiana, and texas among the top five. farm workers who feed us have earned the right to live and work without fear, treated with respect and to hold their children, spouses or parents again. to visit loved ones when they are ill, and attend funerals when they departiculate. to achieve a farm worker utilization, we've made lots of compromises. together with employers, we have struck three major different bipartisan deals. in 2006 and again in 2013, bills to legalize our farm workforce and reform the h2a program were in broader immigration bills that passed this chamber with overwhelming support. in 2019, during a dramatically
different political environment, we spent seven months in negotiations with employers, democrats and republicans. we made serious concessions again in what is now the farm workforce modernization act. a bill that has passed the house twice now with more than 30 republicans supporting that bill. some of these changes have been painful. it creates an earned, lengthy and optional path for farm workers to seek permanent legal status. putting farm workers own a long path to permanent protections, excluding them from safety net programs and imposing a steep fine for their essential work is not the best way to honor the people who have been breaking their bodies and putting their lives at risk to feed the nation. but we agree to these compromises. we also agreed to provide
employers with a one-year freeze on wages. an annual cap on wage fluctuations and access to the program for year-round employers. these changes give h 2 a employers the ability to predict costs over the long term and will conservatively provide ag employers with more than $2.8 million in economic benefits over the next ten years. it also includes e verify. the time is now. we have a house of representatives that has passed this bill twice a chair of the judiciary committee committed to farm worker utilization, a president ready to sign it and now we need the senate to use every tool at its dish posal to honor the people we rely on to feed our nation and bring stability to the ag industry. thank you very much.
>> thank you, mr. rodriguez. mr. myers. >> i like to start by thanking senator durben, ranking member grassly for the opportunity to share my experience and speak on an issue that's very near and dear to my heart. this bill isn't about people skipping ahead of the line. rirlts about the american dream, voter and the viability of an america that allows the dreamers to dream and the voters to create the change that they dream of. i grew up in a very special place in oregon, a population of just 3,000 people. about 50% white and 50% latino. the latino folks were almost exclusively from mexico and originally arrivaled as migrant field workers. when i was in school, out of an unspoken cultural love and respect, we called them marta or mario. we ate each other's food, tried
to speak each other's native language, and most importantly, we spoke side by side infields and on the farms. some of us only did this work for extra spending cash, while others did it out of necessity to pay rent and keep lights on. regardless of the reason, we understood each other because of it. that's why today as a friend and farmer, i'm here to add my voice to that of latino farm workers. they come to the united states from mex ce, for the same reason my great grandparents came from germany and the same reason yours may have come from poland, russia, japan or china, they come to create a better future for ethemselves and their children. the last 36 years of policies and political failures have led us here. now is the time to act. it's not ethical, it's not economically viable and it's not safe to kick this can down the
road yet again. it's not ethical because for the last 2.5 decades we allowed people to cross the southern boarder and the system allowed them to be employed in the united states. if you found yourself in a position where you're unable to clothing and feed your family, can you honestly answer you would not do the same? and it's not ethical for congress to fail to act again. it's not economically viable because america's farms, ranches and dareies cannot operate without sufficientent labor. this year we lost 100 of the season's profits when our workers were delayed for 90 days beyond their date of need, 90 days after we needed them. we lost nearly 300,000 pounds of asparagus. i had to give it away to anybody willing to come and harvest it. it's not safe because if we can't get workers, we can't harvest the crops, if we can't harvest the crops, we can't feed
you. we could shift to corn, soy, barly and wheat, but it's not the best use of our nation's soil and resources. we need to grow and produce what's essential to the survival and not just corn and soy are basic necessities for a healthy society. when it comes to the canary in the coal mine. they've plummeted nearly 85% since 2004. california only has 600 acres of asparagus. they had 25,000 as recent as 2004. it requires long hours and many hours spent bent over at the waist. because it is so challenging t was the first crop to leave the united states. over 90% of asparagus production has left the country. i still grow asparagus but i
can't for much longer if we don't have a workforce and immigration policy that works. and i'm not alone in this. american workers want fair wages, low carbon emissions. instead we shift south of the boarder, where workers earn $8 per day, verses $150 per day on american farms like mine. if these other countries -- in other countries there are no forced emission standards. you'll see fumes allowed to billow from stacks and don't get me started on pesticide restrictions in other countries. i have personally witnessed raw sewage being mixed with irrigation water and pesticides. not allowed in the united states for decades being sprayed on crops and workers. this is going to sound like hyperbole but i believe
virtually all vegetable production in the united states will end within a decade. i strongly urge this committee to take action on the farm worker modernization act, which must include green cards for those that keep america fed and consistent access to labor for farmers. the farm workforce modernization act is one step. many more are desperately needed in the direction of ethically right, economically smart and safe policy. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you. >> chairman, and ranking members of the committee, appreciate the opportunity to testify about the importance of farm workers in our economy and how to best address the shortage on our farms. i've worked on immigration policy for nearly 30 years,
including advising clients in prievlt practice. i represent employers across the country with a few employees with thousands of employees. and let me begin by notifying i'm here on my personal capacity and not on behalf of any client. it is threatening the viability of labor intensive agriculture in america. farm work is honorable and necessary work. but someone is willing to do it. congress long ago recognized this and created the h2a visa program in 1952, later renamed in 1986. that remains the only option for farm workers to fill their seasonal needs.
throughout history, it's been plagued and farmers had no other options. it's produced dramatic growth in the last 15 years. the department of labor certified about 48,000 positions as eligible to be filled by h2a workers. by 2020 that number was 275,000, but farmers are not thriving and they put american farmers at a serious disadvantage in the marketplace. recently they've seen their wage rates increase by 10, 15, and 23% in a single year. far exceeding general inflation and wage increases in any other
part of the economy. growers face numerous other costs associated with the program, including a requirement to provide free housing. as h2a costs rise, farmers are falling further behind. in recent years most farms have seen little if any increase in the price they receive for their crops. when you're competing for space on grocery store shelves with imported fruits and vegetables. americans want cheap food and bad government policy is pricing u.s. farmers out of the market. 30 years ago, u.s. was a global net exporter of fruits and vegetables. today we import twice as much as we export. nowhere is this more evident than in trade with mexico. in the last 15 years, trades have tripled. we imported more than $15
billion from mexico, while exporting just over a billion dollars worth. much is explained by the cost of production in each country. the minimum wage in mexico is $7 per day. by contrast, the nationwide average wage in the h2a program is more than $14 per hour. 16 times higher than mexico. it does not take a ph.d. to recognize fruits and vegetables can be grown and harvested in mexico, shipped to the u.s. and sold at prices far below what it takes u.s. farmer to grow the crop. it does not meaningfully address this problem. although has a few limited impruvlmentes, it has numerous provisions that would make the program more expensive, more bureaucratic and impose huge
legal liability on farmers and it would legalize undocumented farm workers. and doing so will not alleviate the labor shortages on american farms. as we saw in the 1986 legalization, these workers will soon leave the farm in pursuit of other opportunities in the economy, leading to further farm labor shortages. mr. chairman, hopefully this committee will have an opportunity to consider legislation that provides farmers with a program for modern agriculture and insure american farms can remain competitive in an updated marketplace. it must be simpler, less costly and more accessible to all agricultural employers. thank you. >> miss sorenson. >> i appreciate the opportunity to discuss an issue of critical
importance to u.s. pork producers and all of u.s. livestock agriculture. i'm the communications director for iowa select farms in west des moines iowa and president of the national pork producers counsel and national association representing the interest of more than 60,000 u.s. pork producers. the pork industry supports more than 6500,000 domestic jobs, generates more than 39 billion in gross national product and exports an increasing volume of product which, in 2020, was valued at more than $7.7 billion. u.s. hog farmers are proud to provide an affordable and nutritious source of protein around the globe. unfortunately, it's suffering from a serious labor shortage negatively impacting our farms and processing plants. as any pork producer will tell you there is no pork season. it requires a full-time, hard
working and dedicated workforce on our farms and processing plants. there's an increasing need across the entire pork supply chain but there's been a steady decline in rural population growth where where most services are located. this is resulting in a labor shortage. statistics suggest pork industry wages average roughly $14.75 an hour across the country, including many in rural areas, where the local minimum wage is much lower. according to a study by economists at iowa state university, they simply cannot offset the need for foreign-born labor. current visa programs designed for seasonal agriculture fail to meet the workforce needs of u.s. pork producers and other year-round livestock farmers.
we need a dedicated year-round work force. the u.s. pork industry is proud of divrgsty on our farms and across the entire supply chain. for many foreign-born employees, a position has provided and created opportunity to come to our country and become an integral part of our rural communities. last month mppc launched year round pork needs year round labor to highlight the vital real foreign born workers across our industry. one of our foreign born employees in the campaign, christina is a technical training manager in oklahoma. christina, who is born in mexico and grew up raising cattle, came in 2003 to obtain her masters degree. she's now the leading national recruiter, hiring foreign born
to help with hog production. and in 2020, won the excellence award from the oklahoma pork counsel. working in the u.s. pork industry has created opportunity for christina and so many others to come to the united states and become integrated in our communities. we're proud to enable the continued production of our year-round industry. earlier this year the u.s. house of representatives passed the farm worker modernization act of 2021 which seeks to address agriculture labor reform by offering a cap of labor visas. a cap will force different sectors of livestock agriculture to compete against one another for the same limited number of year-round visas. in that scenario no one wins and ultimately the consumer will be
punished with higher prices at the store. if the labor shortage is not addressed t could lead to farms and packing plants shutting down. as a result, pork production would be constrained, leading to higher prices and the united states being an unreliable trading partner for the many countries around the world that rely on our pork. we urge congress to address the pressing matter by opening the h2a visa program to year-round labor without a cap. it's vital to the u.s. economy. our foreign-born workforce is a vital supply of our -- vital part of our supply chain. thank you for the opportunity to testify and i look forward to questions. >> thanks, miss sorenson, for your testimony, and thanks to all of you. i'm glad you were here for the
earlier part of the hearing when members were asking questions. because i think it puts into political perspective why we have fails for 36 years, 36 years to pass any immigration reform bills. you think this nation of immigrants would have to modify its laws from time to time to reflect the reality of employment in america and other issues that come before us and yet, we have been stopped in our tracks, unable to move. and some of the statements made earlier by our colleagues may give you some insight into why that is the case. i happen to disagree with the premise and the premise seems to be that if we allow one person to receive, what they call amnesty and become a citizen of the united states, the message is going to go out around the world, the doors are open. all you have to do is present yourself at the boarder. i think there are at least a
million reasons why that argument fails. because each year we allow a million people to become citizens in this country. naturalization ceremonies are going on today. in fact, one of our staffers is going through a ceremony today. they show up regularly. that's part of who we are and yet that doesn't send the message to the whole world the doors are wide open. many have struggled a lifetime to be eligible for citizenship. mr. rodriguez, tell me what you think about the argument of amnesty and the fact we're dealing with diseased, terrorist drug runner whose are going to come to the country and make it weaker and worse. >> i think the reality is we have worked very hard with the ag industry, as well as republicans and democrats, especially in these last few years, in trying to develop the
farm workforce modernization act too, insure those in agriculture will continue for years to come. and so, as a result, we felt that, that is not going to bring, as a result of other folks coming into the country, because of the fact we're doing that. one, they can't even get this legislation, be part of the program unless, in the two previous years, they worked a certain amount of time in agriculture just to enter into the country itself and get farm worker status. that creates an onslaught of people to enter the program. that won't be allowed. and in addition, they're going to have to minimally work another four years in agriculture. minimally. >> mr. myers, like many others,
you made sacrifice to come here today from the iowa/oregon boarder. i'm appreciating your presentation, first on cbs and again today. you just don't seem like the likely witness to be coming with your message. an idaho, oregon asparagus farmer telling us we have to give these people dignity and opportunity. is that a factor of growing up in the community you describe? >> absolutely it's the factor. i've been privileged to -- lots of folks think of homogenous small towns. we have a multiicaltural and diverse group of people in my home toun. that love we have for one another has formed my opinion of a lot of things. and i will add, my personal experiences of those working
with d.a.c.a. or employees, school mates and the reality of the immigration system, their circumstances and what the results and consequences of decisions others made for them. >> i was consulting senator grassly because we have additional roll call we're facing. do you dispute the statement that has been made repeatedly that half the farm workers in this country are undocumented? >> i think that's what the best data shows. the department of labor conducts regular surveys of farm workers, in-person surveys. and the result shows at least 50% admit being in the country without legal status. >> so, if we were to ridge udly enforce the laws, then what you predicted, the decline of american fruits and vegetables being grown and exported would
be accelerated, wouldn't it? >> i think that's fair, yes. >> i think that's fair too. i happen to agree with mr. myers, that they'll ask more questions about what they're buying. i have a lot of friends who look closely at the origin of fruits and vegetables and lean, obviously, towards the united states where there are higher standards. do you oppose the notion of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented farm workers? >> well, personally i don't have an opinion on that issue. the question is what's the purpose for the legalization? and in my testimony there, are many good reasons people could put forward to legalize the current undocumented workforce. for me the question is what does that do for agriculture in the availability of labor? and while you may legalize workers here, that doesn't do
anything to help the current labor shortage. >> secretary bill sack ran into a farm worker, unable to leave the country because he's undocumented to visit. so, he wouldn't instantly become a citizen and open a franchise restaurant. he has nine years, at least, to wait before he becomes naturalized, at least nine years to wait. so, the suggestion is, to me, he's going to be a farm worker for the period of time but he gets toot visit his family. is that such a bad thing? >> that's a question for this body to decide. i look at this issue from the perspective of my clients and the agricultural work force. they're performing very difficult jobs and certainly many without legal status. providing them legal status certainly would have benefits to
those workers and their employers. but again, that doesn't help larger agricultural problem of labor shortages. and that can only be done through the reform of the visa program. the person you mentioned, many people have come across the boarder without authorization and have essentially become trapped in the u.s. because of a failure of the visa system. if they had an ability to obtain a visa and travel back and forth, many would. from what my clients tell me, most farm workers want legal status to work because they can earn 16 times more than they can earn at home. >> it was a shocking number i heard from mr. myers. $150 per day is what you pay farm workers? that's what it turns out to be, opposed to $8 a day if they're
working in plex co. >> first of all, i want to apologize and thank senator durben for introducing my guest. i was supposed to introduce him. and my constituent, miss sorenson, but every wednesday at noon i have a telephone news conference back to iowa with my journalists in iowa. i'm going to start with miss sorenson. i know the national pork producers consul and others have long called for agricultural employers to have access to the h2a program. this is an issue i've heard at many county meetings and i've had 85 so far this year. can you explain some of the challenges your members face by not being able to participate in the h2a program. >> absolutely.
i too, as president of the national pork producers counsel, hear from all shapes and sizes that there are significant labor shortages on our farms because of our rural populations are declining and people are moving to urban centers. we continue to recruit out of high school, out of college, we continue to place a heavy focus on recruiting from our local labor availability and labor sheds. but there's still a significant gap in staffing on our farms. there's no pork season. we're 24/7 every day. we're showing barns and taking care of our animals. estimations show we're 25 to 30% short on our farms throughout the u.s. pork industry and also in our packing plant. the h2a program, an uncapped
year-round h2a program is the only type of program that matches the size of the issues our industry currently faces. >> you expressed testimony of concerns you have with the bill before us. can you explain in more detail why you find the bill's cap on the number of workers that can go to year round ag employees to be problematic and how it would impact the employers you represent? >> well, i think it goes back to the significant volume of employee and worker shortages that we have on our farms. we would not want to find ourselves in the situation where we are competing against our fellow livestock farmers for a specific number of workers. and that is why we ask for an uncapped h2a program, and a
year-round h2a program. we work in support of the farm worker modernization act. with those two pieces amended, it would be a excellent solution for u.s. pork producers as we look at fulfilling labor on our farms. >> now, to mr. scueilla. and along with what in your view is a flawed methodology used to calculate this wage rate for the benefit of the committee, can you explain how the h2a adverse effect wage rate is calculated and the extent to which it poses a challenge for farmers and agricultural employees. >> i could, senator, depending on how much time you have. it's not an easy issue to explain.
but it's determined based upon a labor survey presented by the department of agriculture. based on responses they obtained from farmers, they calculate average wage rates over multi-state areas. that wage rate then is used by the department of labor as the mandatory minimum wage to be paid in the program. it is extremely volatile, as i noted in my testimony. swing vi upwards by 10, 15, even 20% or more over the last five years i think on average it's been up 20%, but, again, depending where you live in the country, it could be much higher. >> this will be my last program gives you a chance to tell us some changes to the bill, knowing that the act fails -- falls short. what are your top two or three
reforms you think congress should consider taking the h2a program in order to make it more workable for farmers? >> in addition to what has already been mentioned, i think undoubtedly the cost structure in the program as proposed in the farm workforce modernization act is unworkable. in fact, it's worse than the status quo. it would fundamentally change the way wage rates are administered, leading to even higher wages in the future. beyond that, the bill opens up an entirely -- several entire new avenues for litigation against farmers, includes new private right of actions, allowing workers to sue farmers, authorizes class actions with mandatory fees. mandatory awards. that would be detrimental, certainly, to all of agriculture, although it might be somewhat beneficial to lawyers. i don't think it is a good idea and good public policy.
>> i thank you all for participating in this hearing and particularly thank my colleague -- my constituent from iowa. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator grassley. thank you, again tork all the witnesses for participating here today. couple of questions and unless another member joins us, i may be the last one with questions before we journal. let me start coming back to the urgent topic of covid. farm workers were deemed essential during the pandemic as we have discussed repeatedly here today. but as a result, farmers continue to work on the front lines of our food supply chains and often had few resources to protect themselves from the covid-19 virus. nearly 600,000 farm workers contracted covid, and the food and agricultural workers in california, i know, have experienced the highest excess
mortality during the pandemic with a 39% increase compared to previous years. for latinos specifically the mortality rate increased reached 59%. according to findings from the national agricultural records survey, about one-third of u.s. farm workers live below the federal poverty level. and fewer than half have health insurance or sufficient paid sick leave. that's not a good combination we're describing here. many do not qualify for unemployment insurance or other social safety nets because of their undocumented status. these are essential workers. as i mentioned in my earlier statement, i introduced a citizenship for essential workers act as my first bill to provide a pathway to perm nancy for farm workers and all essential workers. mr. rodriguez, can you express how the immigration status of
farm workers has impacted them during the pandemic? >> it makes it extremely difficult. here you have a worker that doesn't have legal status in our country, and they feel, first of all, obligated because of the work that they do, that's what they're skilled at, that's what they've been doing, that's what they're knowledgeable about doing and has been mentioned here today, that's the way they contribute to our nation, and in regards to making sure we have a secure food supply. so because the pandemic came was not a reason for them to leave and discontinue working in agriculture. they continued working, they showed up every day, they made sure that our crops, production continued here within this nation, dairy farms, working there and so forth. and they'll continue to do so. despite the fact that they did all this at great risk. >> let me just say, the
continued commitment and work, contributions to supply chain, to the economy, despite the risks, despite the dangers, is nothing less than heroic. my next question is for miss sorenson. as i made reference to my citizenship for essential workers act, it would cover more than 5 million immigrant workers that have continued to work in a number of sectors, not just agriculture, as essential workers making sacrifices for all americans throughout the pandemic. these workers and their households have paid $47.6 billion in federal taxes alone. an additional $25.5 billion in state and local taxes each and every year, significant
contributions to our nation's economy. however, they don't have the pathway to permanancy. i heard you say you support permanent status for meat packers, i want to make sure i heard that clearly again for the record. meat packers as you know are not eligible for h2a status which causes difficulty for pork producers to hire enough workers to carry out their operations. if enacted, this bill would -- my bill would put meat packers on that pathway to citizenship. so the question is simply yes or no, am i correct in understanding you do support the pathway to citizenship for the workers in your industry? >> i'm here to talk about the h2a program and i want to focus on the pieces that provide certainty to packers and to
farmers. and -- >> well, i know that a pathway to citizenship certainly provides that certainty and fairness for workers in your industry. as time is running out, i do have one more question that i think is critical to mention as we're facing the drought and constant heat conditions throughout the west. as temperatures continue to rise across the country, more and more farm workers are at risk of experiencing heat illness, which can cause heat cramps, organ damage, heat exhaustion, stroke, or even death. in fact, between 1992 and 2017 heat stress injuries killed 815 u.s. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000. a recent report published by ucla found that the financial costs of heat-related injuries in california alone are between
750 million and $1.25 billion each year. the study also found that on days with high temperatures above 90 degrees fahrenheit, very common in the central valley and other parts of the state, workers have a 6 to 9% higher risk of injuries, that's particularly alarming given the ongoing increasing impacts of climate change. the heat illness and prevention act directs osha to implement a heat safety standard nationwide. california adopted its own heat stress standards and as a result workplace injuries declined significantly. i was a proud supporter of those state replaced standards in my prior service and state government. unfortunately it is not the case for vulnerable workers across the country. i believe we need a national standard in place. mr. rodriguez, can you discuss what recourse immigrant farm
workers have if they suffer from heat-related injuries? >> well, certainly in the state of california we do have laws and legislation. in fact, when that legislation was passed, you drive down highway 5 now and highway 99 through the central valley and you'll see farmers that have put up coverings, tents and so forth there for the workers to go when they actually get exposed to the heat when the temperatures rise to be 90 degrees and up. they're provided with the water and so forth, the unfortunate thing is that that is one of the few states that actually have those protections for farm workers, so that the majority of farm workers still in this country are exposed to heat conditions that have cause as you said illnesses, that have transpired time and time again and even deaths. we recently had one in the state of oregon that prompted state
legislation, state regulations to take place there because of the fact that farm workers were dying because of the exposure to heat that they're experiencing right now. >> thank you, mr. rodriguez. and i have just seen with my own eyes the statistics of the impact of that state bill. i assume the impacts in the fields has occurred repeatedly over the years, including this friday in and around fresno. amazing what a simple concept of a little bit of shade, a little bit of fresh, cool water, even access to a restroom in the fields can make. shouldn't take state law to bring about those improvements in working conditions for agricultural workers. if it requires state law to do it, california proudly has done it and i believe essential farm workers across the country, regardless of the state you live and work in, deserve the same
protections. i want to thank all the witnesses for appearing before the committee today and for your participation on behalf of senator durbin. i'm going to begin to conclude this hearing today. but before i do, i want to move to enter a number of statements into the record from a variety of organizations including the economic policy institute, farm worker justice, and immigration hub. without objection, these statements will be included. the record will close one week from today. now, in close, this has been a great conversation, a great discussion. as we referenced so often the farm workforce modernization act, the house passed a bill, this bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented farm workers and
their families. meaning that they would be able to continue to do the work that this federal government has deemed essential, but continue to be able to do that work, but be able to do so without living in fear from being separated from their families. it illustrates the kind of reforms our broken immigration system needs to help generate long-term economic growth. establishing a more secure foundation for consumers, for workers, and for employers, while growing our tax base and securing our food supply chain. so now it is our turn to act in the united states senate. so on behalf of chairman durbin, and myself, we pledge to do everything in our power, senator durbin as chair, myself as a member, chair the judiciary subcommittee on immigration, to