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House Passes Ag-Labor Immigration Reform; Will Senate Help Farmers Keep Workers?

Democrats continue to get stuff done in Congress, and this week a few Republicans stopped staging political theater for the morally bankrupt White House and voted to help. On Wednesday, the House approved the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who help grow America’s food to stay and work in this great nation:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the bill’s sponsor, said that it was a “historic” compromise and example of bipartisanship. “This bill is a compromise, it’s not exactly what I would have written but it does stabilize the workforce,” she said on the House floor. “We have farmworkers who have been here for a very long time without their papers, living in fear and in some cases being arrested and deported.” “We need to allow them to get an agricultural visa that is temporary and renewable so they can do the work we need them to do and their employers need them to do,” she said. “We need to stabilize the H-2A program, which this bill does. It simplifies it and also stabilizes wages” [Adam Shaw, “House Passes Farm Bill That Critics Says Grants ‘Large-Scale Amnesty’ to Illegal Immigrants,” Fox News, 2019.12.12].

34 Republicans joined 226 Democrats in voting for this ag-immigration reform bill. South Dakota’s lone Congressman, Dusty Johnson, was not among those problem-solvers. I can’t imagine why our man Dusty would oppose the interests of over 300 farm producer and labor groups who recognize they need foreign labor to keep up with all the agricultural demand from our domestic eaters and our bedraggled but still hungry trade partners. One would think that, when our state feels it must bribe counties to open their doors to giant meat and milk factories, our leaders would leap at the chance to help CAFOs and other ag-industrial operations sustain a reliable, long-term workforce.

The Republican Senate has given no signal that it shares the House’s interest in putting together some bipartisan support in favor of passing the Farm Modernization Workforce Act and making the troubled ag economy more stable. But Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington says his conversations with the usually immigrant-hating White House give him hope that the bill can pass:

“The president has indicated strong support for doing something in this area,” said Newhouse. “I talked to him personally a couple of weeks ago and he was very supportive of the general idea.”

Newhouse also told McClatchy he had spoken to Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has been working for months on an immigration overhaul proposal.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another chief negotiator on the legislation, said it could resonate with Trump because the president has been “very, very aggressive, very passionate” about helping farmers.

“This is the only game in town that has a chance to get to the Senate that deals with an issue that is critical to farmers,” the Florida Republican said [Emma Dumain, “Are Republicans Ready to Tackle Immigration Legislation? A House Vote Signals Maybe,” McClatchy, 2019.12.11].

After a hard year of abuse from real gods and the fake one they put in the White House, perhaps farmers will get some relief in the form of this ag-labor immigration reform from Senators John Thune, Mike Rounds, and the Republican majority in the Senate.


  1. happy camper 2019-12-14 08:19

    So illegal workers and illegal employers should be rewarded for breaking the law what does that do other than encourage more lawbreaking. It’s perverse. Both parties show laws don’t really mean anything when it comes to votes and greed they might have different motives but they’re both disgraceful.

  2. jerry 2019-12-14 08:29

    Uh, the idea of the law is to prevent breaking the law. Please re-read Cory’s post above.

  3. jerry 2019-12-14 08:48

    One party shows that corruption is extremely profitable as they follow their leader… Chubby trumpy. Bribes, cool. Extortion, not a problem. Inviting foreign interference with elections, that’s where the money is, so high crimes and misdemeanors.. bring it.
    Manipulating the stock market with phony blather…wire fraud. Your party (R) has even sent to Washington, a senator who was involved in some serious issues right here in South Dakota. I’ll not mention names, but he is the short round guy that’s name will be on the ballot for the upcoming election.

  4. happy camper 2019-12-14 09:08

    They’ve ignored the law Jerry, so now they just want to change it. Ridiculous. I’m sick of being the chump who follows the rules. I feel like going out right now and breaking a law. Why should I keep following laws that don’t benefit me? Just break em they’re stupid and morally unjustifiable. It’s cold I better bundle up not sure which law I’ll break first. Stop being a fool who follows the law they don’t mean nothin. Illegal workers are great just ask BCB.

  5. Donald Pay 2019-12-14 09:26

    Somebody needs to tell happy camper that this country was settled by law breakers. Nothing in this country gets done without breaking some law or another.

  6. MJK 2019-12-14 09:38

    I’m not going to hold my breath on those two Senators. And Dustyu—doesnt surprise me as hes RED thru and thru. We cannot look like we MIGHT support some immigrants because they are THOSE people! But, this is a GOOD BILL! And kudos to California Rep. Lofgren for being progressive.

  7. mike from iowa 2019-12-14 09:48

    So, HC, how many fruit picking jobs you gonna apply for?

    Immigrants weren”t a real problem until chicken little wingnuts convinced themselves the workers all voted for Dems, even though they aren’t allowed to vote. You and wingnuts have scared yourselves nearly to pants wetting Defcom 1.

    I expect you and all nuts that oppose this bill to apply to pick fruits and veggies from sunup until sundown as long as the harvest lasts.

  8. jerry 2019-12-14 09:56

    Of course they ignored the law because it was a stupid law. We Americans have a long history of those stupid laws. Prohibition, that still exists in many parts of this country, still to this day exists, with bumper to bumper traffic waiting to buy booze at the county line and take it back home.

    This law will at least address the problem that currently, is being ignored. Dirty Johnson is back to the same spots on his coat.

  9. happy camper 2019-12-14 10:32

    Well I’m glad you condone breaking the law cause I just went out and got me some liberation it don’t matter none what I did cause those laws was stupid I had to get stuff done like BCB said “illegal worker” is a slur you can’t judge me either I’m gonna pick and choose from here on out there ain’t no slippery slope not in my mind.

    “this country was settled by law breakers. Nothing in this country gets done without breaking some law or another” – I gotta get my stuff done.

    “Of course they ignored the law because it was a stupid law.” – I’m gonna break me some stupid laws too.

    “So, HC, how many fruit picking jobs you gonna apply for?” I’m gonna cross borders into any country I want Canada won’t mind, Russia won’t mind, I ain’t illegal ain’t no such thing.

  10. mike from iowa 2019-12-14 10:42

    For pity”s sake, HC, I gave you a solidly legal solution to the “illegal” fruit pickers. What us your solution? Sit and gripe about lawbreakers?

  11. happy camper 2019-12-14 10:57

    You’ve all explained how laws don’t matter so why should they apply to Trump you say they shouldn’t apply to you and others I’m sure he thinks they are dumb laws and he just wants to get stuff done. Mike and Trump have more in common than I realized!!!

  12. mike from iowa 2019-12-14 11:22

    Drumpf’s criminal activities are slightly more damaging to the future of this nation than fruit picker’s alleged crimes. I’d think maybe you would notice the difference in severity. Maybe not.

    Would it make you feel better to go south of the border and pick their fruit?

    drumpf doesn’t like any law unless it helps him skip paying his bills. Migrant workers pretty much follow the rules once they are here and they pay their taxes and otherwise don’t break the law.

  13. bearcreekbat 2019-12-14 11:27

    Those who openly claim that this legislation somehow “reward[s someone] for breaking the law” spreads a false impression of reality. Instead, this legislation actually increases the monetary punishment for the relevant misdemeanor and adds a new penalty for non-criminal non-compliance with the relevant admistrative rule. It also modifies the process for future compliance with immigration laws.

    First, a factual understanding of the relevant criminal statute is needed. Crossing the border without the required “papers” is a misdemeanor under 8 U.S.C. § 1325, with a fine of up to $250 and/or up to 6 months in jail. Under the federal sentencing guidelines the basic offense level is 8 before other typical reductions or unusual enhancements for mitigating or aggravating factors. Under the federal sentencing guidelines the recommended jail term for a category 0-8 offense is 0-6 months jail time. The 0-6 offense level typically results probation with no jail time, or time served between arrest and sentencing.

    Similar federal misdemeanors with the same punishment range include, but are not limited to,

    – mountain biking on the Pacific Crest Trail

    – snowmobiling in Yellowstone

    -[taking] a shortcut through one of the forests in northern Arizona

    – using Smokey the Bear’s likeness without permission from the federal government

    – unauthorized use of the Swiss flag, the 4-H club emblem, and the Red Cross insignia.

    Federal misdeanors that subject violators to twice the punishment include, but are not limited to:

    – transporting fireworks

    – possession of even small amounts of marijuana [including possession in those states that have decriminalized possession]

    – Mailing dentures . . . If you’re not a licensed dentist

    – Cutting down your own tree for Christmas [without a permit]

    – Mailing your NCAA bracket. You cannot mail “any record, paraphernalia, ticket, certificate, bills, slip, token, paper, writing, or other device used” for “bookmaking; or wagering pools with respect to a sporting event.” [such as your NCAA college basketball bracket or any record of your office’s Super Bowl pool].

    So, the victimless misdemeanor of crossing the border without required paperwork is not exactly the worst offense on the books. The new legislation’s mandatory increase in the fine from $250 to $1000 is hardly a grant of amnesty and calling it a “reward” merely creates or spreads irrational anti-immigrant hatred and demonization.

    Finally, the other possible “offense” committed by workers sans paperwork is overstaying a Visa, which is not even misdemeanor, petty offense, nor any other crime.

    Some may assume that all immigrants who are in the United States without legal status must have committed improper entry. This simply isn’t the case. Many foreign nationals legally enter the country on a valid work or travel visa, but fail to exit before their visa expires for a variety of reasons.

    . . . [M]ere unlawful presence in the country is not a crime. It is a violation of federal immigration law to remain in the country without legal authorization, but this violation is punishable by civil penalties, not criminal. . . .

    The argument that this new legislation creates “amnesty” is a fiction and is an unfortunate extension of hateful anti-immigrant propaganda.

  14. bearcreekbat 2019-12-14 11:53

    Given happy’s sarcastic comments about “lawbreaking” I would be really interested in examining his “use tax” filings with the State of SD during the period that sales tax was not collected by retailers for internet purchases, but the consumer was required to file a use tax return and pay this sales tax.

    It would be interesting to know whether he ever filed such a return for personal purchases, as I think the problem the State tried to resolve by forcing retailers to collect tax on internet sales was the failure of SD citizens to file such use tax returns or pay the required sales tax on their internet purchases.

    Maybe happy was the exception and alway filed and paid his sales tax? If not, given his arguments and sarcasm I would expect that he would immediately turn himself into the State for any such misdemeanor violations he may have committed and reject any mercy from the prosecutors or court so as not to lead other use tax violators to think they might be “rewarded” for their misdemeanors.

  15. Donald Pay 2019-12-14 12:00

    Please, let us not fetishize laws. It used to be the law that people of certain skin color couldn’t legally eat in certain restaurants or ride in certain seats in the bus or attend certain public schools. Then some folks decided to break the law. We call them heros today. Then the law was changed. Now, I guess, we give some people “amnesty” to eat with us white folk.

    Bear did a good job of knocking down the idea that the measure the House just passed was some sort of “amnesty.” You can debate the measure, but do it from a place of fact and rational argument, rather than hysterics.

    I generally follow the law, because I’m a law abiding man. Nearly all of them have or had at some point a good purpose. Some don’t, or are ill-advised. And then there are simply not good laws, and should be changed or repealed.

    Like just about everyone, I do violate the speed limits by 5-10 mph now and then. Probably that’s more dangerous than anything a farmworker would do to get across the border. Lock Me Up!!!!

  16. happy camper 2019-12-14 12:41

    But Donald (and others) have made statements that stand on their own BCB (and Cory) are especially guilty of word salad and linguistic somersaults that change nothing. There are illegal workers regardless of how they crossed the border and there are laws you don’t want to follow. Of course I understand there are different severities of crime, but BCB will present a list of links to say immigration is only positive. There are multiple sides to every issue most commenters here (not all) make no attempt to look at pros and cons they just want to justify their own perspective usually with a tone of moral superiority. I just ain’t buyin it. We’ve been through amnesty then both parties looked the other way. Enforcing laws matter or get them off the books. Immigration laws are not trivial. You wish to create gray where it doesn’t exist simply to justify your polarized views. It’s beneath some of you who do so, only delegitimizes your argument, and opens the door for a general lowering of standards across the board.

  17. bearcreekbat 2019-12-14 14:06

    Here is another “word salad” for happy. Oh that I only had happy’s skills and abilities to create comments happy might find reasonable, but my personal shortcomings limit my abilities.

    I agree that there are numerous links that demonize and denegrate immigrants, usually making factually incorrect or unsupported speculative claims. I admit I have not yet seen a factually accurate link that demonstrates immigration to be negative. Hence it is a bit difficult to cite a factually accurate link showing a negative side to immigration that is the result of immigrant behavior per se or lack of U.S. resources.

    Indeed, even anecdotal stories about particular immigrant misbehavior seems to have no more of a causal or other factual relationship to immigrants as group than anecdotal descriptions of U.S citizen misbehavior have to the behavior of U.S. citizens as a group.

    I would be very interested in reviewing any claimed factually accurate links that happy can show us that support turning our backs on these folks as a group due to negative immigrant behavior or lack of resources. For example, perhaps there is a factually accurate link I have missed with research results that demonstrate the US lacks the financial resources, rather than the will to spend existing available resources, to provide a full range of services to immigrants? Or a factually accurate link that shows qualified U.S. citizens as a group have been excluded from picking fruits or other farm/agricultural labor because of the availability of cheaper, less qualified immigrant labor.

    Or on the Trump claims, a factually accurate link showing that immigrants as a group tend to be rapists, drug dealers, or violent individuals rather than merely people seeking freedom, safety and economic opportunity for themselves and their children.

    But when I see a link with claims that links to credible research reveal as false and misleading statements, then I will attempt to point out what the actual evidence shows in fact.

    Come on happy, help us out – what is the factually accurate basis for your assertion there “multiple sides” to demonizing immigrants as a group that “most commenters here (not all) make no attempt to look at;” such as the “cons” that have convinced you to summarily reject the factual resources that repeatedly have provided research leading to the considerable evidence that immigrants as a whole benefit, rather than harm, our communities.

  18. Debbo 2019-12-14 15:20

    Well, I had some things to say, but BCB pretty much covered it very well. Thank you sir.

  19. Porter Lansing 2019-12-14 17:09

    Zero sum happiness. Every time a New American immigrant has a good day, Contrary Camper has a terrible day. It’s the Dakota Way.

  20. Debbo 2019-12-14 18:13

    Now that’s funny.

  21. Robin Friday 2019-12-14 21:37

    SD Farmers Union President Doug Sombke says he is disappointed in Senator John Thune: “Extremely disappointed because he’s got the power, he is one of the top dogs in the Republican party and yet South Dakota has nothing, nothing to show for his actions,” Sombke said. “I am terribly disappointed, especially in agriculture and of course that’s my world, so that’s why I’m upset.”

  22. T 2019-12-15 06:27

    according to what I have read, the ag foreign help have a stipulation and they changed it because the truckers were hiring them to truck because of their CDL
    Now, supposedly if we get foreign help they cannot drive semi.
    Well ag employment involves cdl, so hire a trucker you say? Why do you think truckers were hiring foreign? And why ag labor hires foreigns
    There is no help for this line of work.

  23. mike from iowa 2019-12-15 07:56

    Dear Mr Sombke, I beg to differ with you, Sir. I hear Marlboro Barbie has a terrific jump shot, which is not nothing. As your Senator, he sucks.

  24. Debbo 2019-12-15 12:46

    There is a need for hope in these times for many people. Today’s Strib has a column of hope written by the excellent Lori Sturdevant Sturdevant. She writes about the wise, civil rights matriarch, Josie Johnson. Now 90 years old, Johnson continues to fight the good fight and remain hopeful. She has written a book and I’m giving you the Amazon link so you can read reviews and such. The title is appropriate to us, with perhaps a couple of unenlightened exceptions.

    “Hope in the Struggle,” Josie Johnson

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-12-16 12:32

    Possibly related to John’s citation of Bloomberg’s GDP stat: my paywalled weekend paperEconomic Innovation Group indicating that 80% of U.S. counties lost primary working age population (ages 25–54) from 2007 to 2017. In South Dakota, the percentage was 85%; the only ten SD counties that saw that prime-working-age population grow were Lincoln, Minnehaha, Brookings, Brown, Buffalo, Todd, Jackson, Oglala Lakota, Pennington, and Meade.

    CAFO jobs aren’t enough to keep workers in most SD counties.

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