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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy


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Arizona's tough new immigration law goes in to effect tomorrow. Employers found to be hiring unauthorized immigrants can have their business licenses revoked.

This editorial in the CSM makes the interesting observation that half of the nation's winter lettuce is grown in Arizona. Since an estimated 75% of farm workers in the US are unauthorized immigrants, if Arizona decides to vigorously enforce the new law, presumably we'll all feel it at the supermarket and in restaurants.

The optimist in me tells me that there may be a silver lining in measures like these. If Arizona succeeds in driving out unauthorized immigrants and the whole country pays a price, maybe that will finally give Congress the push it needs to finally establishing a guest worker program that allows employers to bring in needed workers through legal channels.


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  1. R. Lawson's Avatar
    "I know you have your own blog and one of the benefits of having your own blog is that you can rant to your heart's content and can insist on the last word. "

  2. TLB's Avatar
    I read the CSM link and, rather than simply using scare tactics (YOU WILL PAY $100 FOR HEAD OF LETTUCE!) they actually did a very balanced job. They discussed a study that showed prices would only go up a few pennies on some veggies ( ), and they discussed all the other things that might happen, such as growers using automation instead of importing a foreign serf class. Oh, and they also discussed how that importation is a massive corporate subsidy, with companies getting cheap (to them) labor and passing the other costs - financial and non-financial - on to the rest of us.

    Oh, wait, the CSM did none of those things and simply engaged in scare tactics designed to support illegal activity? My bad.
  3. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    TLB - What percentage of the cost of agricultural production is labor-based? If it is minuscule, then it won't matter very much what Arizona and other states do. If it is significant and Arizona rigorously enforces the law, then why do you think costs will only rise a few cents? And why would American supermarket chains and restaurants buy from American farmers when foreign produce is cheaper? It's great to say that technology will solve the problems, but how long will it take and what will it cost to make that transformation? Can farmers survive x number of harvests without labor while waiting on the technology? Do farmers have the economic wherewithal to finance this transformation? America's family farmers are not exactly the idle rich.

    But alas it doesn't matter because folks like you consider farmers to be a bunch of criminals anyway who deserve to lose their farms.
  4. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    "maybe that will finally give Congress the push it needs to finally establishing a guest worker program that allows employers to bring in needed workers through legal channels."

    Gee, and I thought that was what the H-2A Visa program was for, silly me. It's an unlimited supply of guest workers, no cap limit, yet farmers just aren't using it. Why would we then need more legislation?
  5. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    >>Gee, and I thought that was what the H-2A Visa program was for, silly me. It's an unlimited supply of guest workers, no cap limit, yet farmers just aren't using it. Why would we then need more legislation?
  6. hmm's Avatar
    I don't know much about farmers but I thought they are using illegal labor because it is way cheaper. Why bother go through (quite painful) official channels when there are lots of people willing to work and there is virtually no worksite enforcement?

    What I wonder is why one should treat big farms differently from say software companies. Why a typical IT startup does not use illegal labor, while a meat-packing plant does? I am sure startups would love to save money on immigration fees, and to ignore H1B caps. Why cannot hospitals hire nurses who are here illegally (assuming they are competent and passed all necessary tests of course)? Why a meatpacking plant or Walmart should be different from a non-for-profit hospital? My guess is that hospitals and IT companies police themseves, and those farms and meatpacking plants do not. Why should we have any sympathy for meatpacking plants? I feel sorry for some unauthorized immigrants but why should I feel sorry for Walmart?
  7. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    HMM summed it up pretty quick, the farmers like the profit, look to the $50M farmer moving his product south of the border. Farmers are required to pay a certain wage to H2A visa holders, housing, transportation, medical, etc... which once tallied comes to approx. $17-$20 per hour average. Farmers would rather pay min. wage to people for more profit, these people won't complain, and obviously you must condone the exploitation of there labor for siding with the farmer and needing more legislation. The average American Citizen is tired of sub-sidizing the farmer for his crop and for his employee. Or do you prefer to have a permanent underclass of laborers who just pick crops? The problem between farmers is, their are the corporate farms and then there are the mom & pop farms, corp. much larger land use, mom & pop usually just a few hundred acres. Corporations are the problem, and mom & pop are stuck competing against much lower prices.
  8. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    There were 37,149 H2A visas issued for year 2006, stats for 2007, I have read are as high as just over 56,000. I have also read that just over 2% of the farms in the past have used the H2A visa program. Now what is so hard about treating people fairly if the farmers are the ones refusing to use/obtain the visa? Who is it you blame for the mess, and why on earth do we need more legislation to make it easier for farmers, when in fact its pretty damned easy now?, or do you think they should get off and pay menial wages to a lower class of people?
  9. legal-forever-waiting-forever's Avatar

    somehow i suspect getting an H2A visa is not that simple. my own sense is that everyone weighs risk and benefit, and if the worker program were quick and efficient, many more farmers would use it as opposed to illegal labor, despite the cost. just my 2c, i have no personal stake in it...
    so if i had to look at legislative improvements i would make the program efficient and easy and then slam those who persist with the cheap option anyway hard.

    btw at a tangent here, the subsidies to farms are far more egregious and enormous than the ability to use cheaper labor. the farm subsidy bill was passed and congress would not even exclude farmers making more than 250 grand a year. they exclude those making a million or something. in the face of that i figure that my taxes are already going towards farmer's lifestyles....what's a bit of cheaper labor in addition :-)
  10. Greg Siskind's Avatar

    Liquidmicro - Out of curiosity, do you like an unlimited agricultural worker visa? If so, we may not be that far off. I actually think the H-2A could become a much more user friendly visa without the controversy of an AgJobs bill. Some of the H-2A provisions that are most onerous have to do with requirements to provide employees with housing (how many employers in America actually provide workers with housing?), extremely complex rules for determining the prevailing wage and a lengthy complex application process involving the Department of Labor, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State and Customs and Border Protection. Even immigration lawyers are intimidated by the program.

    Make the H-2A simpler to use and I'll bet employers will switch. I imagine in either case, I'll be getting a lot of phone calls from farmers in 2008 so if you think I'm a greedy lawyer, then presumably I'm rooting for more laws like Arizona's. But I'm not. I'll do just fine without having to depend on destroying the livelihoods of the nation's farmers.
  11. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    An unlimited supply of H2A visas, I have no problem with what so ever. I also believe that if the farmers are yelling that they need more workers, or that 'crops are rotting on the vine', that they would in turn apply for the visas and give to their employees that they have, thus turning the Illegal Employees now into Legal Employees. Applications for the H2A aren't all that cumbersome, it may take a little effort on the farmers behalf, a little foreword thinking and preparing, a little out of pocket money up front for the advertising required and for the filing fees, but that is all figured into the $17 - $20 per hour I spoke of earlier. please see Process for Filing: How to Apply and When to Apply
    and the AEWR

    I here a lot of "its cumbersome, we need a lawyer, etc..." My wife is an immigrant, we filed the paperwork out ourselves, followed the instructions, and 5 years after her arrival and filing, she just passed her citizenship test, she swears in the end of January. I also have filed in the past and obtained an H2-B Visa for a friend of mine, who was here illegally from Mexico, no lawyer, it was obtained within 90 days of the beginning of my filing, again no lawyer needed. If one follows the instructions it is really rather simple.

    If you are arguing for the farmer not being required to supply housing for its workers, then they really don't need the H2A workers. Most mom & pop farmers usually have 1 or 2 mobile homes on their properties that they supply, while the ones truly not wanting to spend the extra monies are the Corporate Farmers, it eats to much into their profits. I have a couple dairy farms around where I live, I know the owners, they are small outfits usually family ran, they have H-2A visa employees and supply housing. Their employees are treated like family.
  12. May's Avatar
    Another article in Barron's with some more calcs on the economic impact of the new law.

    "Arizona tries to curb illegal workers by strangling its own economy"

    "But threatening businesses with extinction for hiring people hungry for work may be the most self-defeating legislative enterprise since the Volstead Act, which enforced national Prohibition."
  13. May's Avatar
    Another article in Barron's with some more calcs on the economic impact of the new law.

    "Arizona tries to curb illegal workers by strangling its own economy"

    "But threatening businesses with extinction for hiring people hungry for work may be the most self-defeating legislative enterprise since the Volstead Act, which enforced national Prohibition."
  14. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    You ask, "how many employers in America actually provide workers with housing?"

    Here is my scenario, which is actually law here in CA. I am a State Licensed Contractor, I operate in the Sacramento Area, I have a contract with the Tahoe Conservancy for Hazard Tree Removals which may take up to 10 days per month to complete a project, to drive there it takes 2.5 - 3 hrs with a truck and chipper, I have a 3 man crew that does the work, by law I am required to pay them the travel time while driving in my equipment to Tahoe from Sacramento, by law I am to pay for their housing/boarding for the duration of our stay, by law I am required to pay for their meals, by law I am required to pay for their workers comp, by law I am required to pay for medical expenses while incurred on the job, by law through the contract I am required to pay them a set prevailing wage, by law I am required to provide all equipment necessary to complete the project in a timed manner, I am required to fill out and file with the Tahoe Conservancy all required information on hours worked, who worked, hourly wages, etc.

    Now since it also so cumbersome for me to remain in business and provide all that is above, are you also going to argue on my behalf, to not have to provide anything for my employees other than paying them a wage consistent with wages of the area? After all, it is rather cumbersome for me to have to provide the above and fill out all this required paperwork just to supply jobs to 3 men.
  15. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    Liquidmicro - I'm sure you're well compensated for your work and given the nature of what you do, you don't have to worry about foreign competitors. Tell me that Wal-Mart and Kroger are going to ignore cheaper products from abroad.
  16. Liquidmicro's Avatar
    Actually, I compete daily with companies that work for far less due to their hiring practices, landscapers and tree care companies are now a dime a dozen since construction crapped out.

    My example was simply to show that employers due provide housing as required by law and that farmers are by no means any different in their requirements, and they deserve no special attention.
    This article seems to touch on all points, and it shows that farmers are attempting to become compliant with the AZ laws. As far as Wal-Mart and Kroger, read the Economics of Lettuce provided in the link.
  17. Legal and no longer waiting's Avatar
    Oh, here we go, a "balanced job" from the Center for Immigration Studies. Ha-ha-ha! Reminds me of "fair and balanced" ;-)

    Food prices are already up around 15% this year, and that's just fuel cost. Lettuce prices can easily double, that's inelastic demand. Same with other foods.
  18. Another voice's Avatar
    In addtion to the inelastic demand and food cost increases, there is also the Free Trade agreement proivision with Mexico on agricultural products that goes into effect Jan 01. Food companies can easily buy their products from Mexico or produce them down there. Arizona may just want to get rid of their agro business altogether.
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