Responding to recent concerns of farmers from Western New York regarding the potential loss of crop harvest due to lack of migrant workers, Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia) held a meeting this week with members of the State Legislature, the New York State Department of Labor, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and agriculturists from the 139th Assembly District and Western New York area. Specifically, Hawley’s meeting was to discuss the implications of Section H-2A of the Immigration Reform and Control Act and the related measures that the state has imposed on this section of federal law.
"Basically, the state is tying the hands of the farmers across our state in regards to whom they may or may not hire, despite a very well working federal law. As agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy, especially in my district, this issue is of paramount importance to me, and it is imperative that we bring all sides together in order to find a solution so that we can protect this year’s harvest," said Hawley, who is the former president of the Genesee County Farm Bureau and, as Assemblyman, has been honored for his creation of and advocacy for pro-agricultural legislation.
Specifically, Section H-2A of the Immigration Reform and Control Act authorizes the lawful admission of temporary, non-immigrant workers (H-2A workers) to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. Throughout our state, every spring, thousands of migrant H-2A workers come from countries such as Mexico, Honduras and Jamaica in order to bring in the harvest on our state’s fruit and vegetable farms. After the harvest is collected, the workers return to their native countries. This program has been successful both in terms of immigration control and for the farmers who need a specifically trained and skilled work force only on a seasonal basis.
However, recently, the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has created a new policy regarding H-2A workers, which is threatening the farming industry and immigration policies. The new policy states that New York farmers must hire workers from Puerto Rico, as it is a territory of the United States, before other countries, such as Mexico. For the farmers, this is a problem because they oftentimes have been working with the same workers from other countries for years, meaning the workers are reliable, trained and trusted.
In fact, last week a large group of farmers from Western New York met with Hawley in his district office to testify about these problems with the DOL policy. "I was told by over thirty area farmers and members of the Farm Bureaus that with this new policy, workers are just simply not showing up, or, if they do, they only use the plane ticket paid for by the farm, work a week or two and then head to New York City and disappear off the radar. As many crops are going to be ready to harvest in the next few months, this is a catalyst for a real disaster for our state – not just for our farmers or our economy, but for our food supply as well. With no reliable workers to pick fruits and vegetables, the majority of this year’s harvest may be left to literally rot on the trees or fields," commented the Assemblyman.