The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, H.R. 4916, introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would grant amnesty – including work permits, green cards, and a path to citizenship – to illegal aliens who have been unlawfully employed in agriculture during the past two years. In fact, illegal aliens who spent just most weekends working in agriculture over two years would qualify, since only 1,035 hours or 180 workdays are required.
The purpose of the bill, ostensibly, is to ensure a stable and legal agriculture workforce. Naturally, the first step would be to reform the H-2A guest worker program that allows employers to import an unlimited number of workers each year for temporary, seasonal agricultural work. The current H-2A program, while used successfully by many growers to obtain agricultural workers each year, is bureaucratic and cumbersome. But, no, unfortunately, that is not the primary focus of H.R. 4916. Rather than simply streamlining the H-2A program, Title I of the bill is all about amnesty.
Congress passed an agricultural amnesty in 1986, as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). That law was sold to the American people as a one-time amnesty, in exchange for border security and a prohibition on hiring illegal aliens in the future. The United States ended up giving amnesty to almost 1.1million “Special Agricultural Workers” (as they were called in IRCA), plus their spouses and minor children. But there was a catch: most of the Special Agricultural Workers left agriculture for better-paying jobs as soon as they got their work permits.