The Coronavirus crisis and its devastating impact on the U.S. economy have laid bare America’s dangerous dependence on China, and that country’s legions of exploited workers, for essential products and the economic chaos that can result from disruption of tenuous supply lines. The pandemic has also exposed our nation’s shameful dependence on low-wage exploitable foreign labor in one of our most important sectors of the economy: agriculture.
In the latest move to pander to powerful agricultural interests, the government waived COVID-19 health and safety regulations in order to rush even more low wage foreign workers to the fields. Citing the concerns of agricultural interests, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that most H-2 guest workers would now receive visas without in-person interviews or health screenings, for the sole reason of ushering them into the country faster. This comes as the government continues to bar some travel from overseas in an effort to combat the virus’ spread. But agricultural interests apparently override these bans.
A devastating March 28 Associated Press report reveals how little value powerful agricultural interests place on the lives and safety of either their guest workers or their illegal labor force. Moreover, the stunning silence of the massively funded network of so-called “immigrants’ rights” groups in the face of these revelations shows how little they actually care about the people they claim to advocate for.
The AP report details how agricultural employers are routinely violating emergency federal, state, and local policies that have been put in place to safeguard workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dave Puglia, a spokesman for the powerful Western Growers Association, explained why the employers he represents are ignoring workplace social distancing requirements. “You would have to stagger the workers who are harvesting…That is a very inefficient and a very, very costly way to operate, and most farmers wouldn’t be able to do it. They would be losing way too much money.”
In other words, people are expendable. Agribusiness profits are not.
“If ever there was a reason to end government tolerance for the widespread use of illegal labor and unfettered access to H-2A agricultural guest workers, Mr. Puglia summed it up in three disgraceful sentences,” commented Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
“Equally deplorable is the utter silence of the entire alphabet soup of immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights and human rights groups that have fought every effort to stop illegal immigration and every effort to hold exploitative industries accountable. There can be no doubt that these advocates do not care about immigrants. What they care about is using immigrants to achieve their own political ends,” Stein charged.
“Our nation requires a strong domestic agricultural industry, but one that relies on legal workers and investment in automation to ensure that we can continue to feed ourselves. Achieving that objective requires that we enforce our immigration laws, punish scofflaw employers and ignore the disingenuous advocates whose only concern for immigrants is to use them as a political wedge,” concluded Stein.