News/US: Lawmakers Split on Migrant Workers

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Subject: News/US: Lawmakers Split on Migrant Workers
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Tue May 16 2000 - 08:15:37 EDT

Lawmakers Split on Migrant Workers
By Jesse J. Holland
May 4, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) Allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal foreign
migrant workers to remain in the United States legally would be better than
allowing the abuse the workers endure now, lawmakers say.

"They are raped, they are robbed, they are bribed, they are pillaged in a
way that (is) unthinkable, and ought to be unthinkable, in this country,"
Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on
immigration Wednesday. "It happens because they have no safe and legal way
to come here and to go home."

Under the bill introduced by Smith and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.,
undocumented workers who can prove they worked at least 150 days as
agricultural laborers within the past year could immediately gain legal
status as temporary nonimmigrants.

Those who do farm work for at least 180 days annually in five of the next
seven years would be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence.

Legal status would allow the workers to complain about abuses without fear
of being deported. "This is not only an economic issue, this is a
humanitarian issue," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

House members are working on their own bill.

"It makes no sense to let crops rot in the fields or never get planted when
there is a waiting pool of labor," said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. There
are more than 600,000 illegal migrant workers in the U.S., officials said.

Not everyone likes the idea, however.

The proposal would give farmers too much control over already exploited
migrant workers and the temporary workers who are in the country legally,
said Cecilia Mono, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, which
fights to reduce poverty and discrimination against Hispanic Americans.

Currently, farmers are allowed to have guestworkers if not enough domestic
workers are available. The guestworkers are issued temporary visas to enter
the United States. About 30,000 immigrants were admitted in 1998 under the

The bill would "lower wage rates, eliminate housing opportunities, reduce
recruitment inside the United States, decrease government oversight and in
other ways lower labor standards of U.S. farmworkers and allow exploitation
of vulnerable foreign workers," Mono said.

The proposed legislation would streamline the existing guestworker program,
called H2-A, by creating a computerized national registry that would match
workers with jobs. Foreign agricultural laborers would be hired only after
the department determines there is a shortage of domestic workers.

Marcos Camacho of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, called the
bill "indentured servitude."

"It holds out a false hope of legalization to the many farm workers who are
working in this country without proper authorization," Camacho said.

He complained that farm workers would not be able to prove that they've
worked in the U.S. for 180 days or seven years without assistance from
farmers, who could hold that like a club over the workers' heads.

EDITOR'S NOTE: More information on the Senate committee hearing (including
testimony) is online at:
Melanie Orhant <<>>
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