Rep. Elton Gallegly is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration. He’s also one of the most egregiously anti-immigrant leaders in Congress, pushing a strategy to force a mass deportation, cleverly couched as “attrition through enforcement.”
Unfortunately, Gallegly’s zeal to get tough on immigrants would have profound consequences for California and the rest of the United States.
California’s agriculture and food production are the envy of the world. The state’s farmers not only help feed the world, but keep prices low and jobs here in the United States. Yet this great agricultural machine is under assault by one of California’s own members of Congress: Elton Gallegly. Instead of embracing the business-labor compromise bill known as AgJOBS that would legalize farm workers and make changes to the H-2A guest worker program, Gallegly is trying to divide the business community from labor leaders and destabilize the agriculture industry in the process.
Gallegly has already held hearings that tried to pit Latinos against African Americans. (His hometown paper, the Ventura County Star, reported on March 1, 2011 “Immigration hearing turns into racial battle”) and designed to create tension between native-born citizens and naturalized citizens, which Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31) blasted as “scapegoating on steroids.”
Gallegly’s next hearing is titled, “The H-2A Visa Program – Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture?” His approach is to insist that the solution to our farm labor crisis is an employer-friendly guest worker program, instead of the thoughtful, realistic, bipartisan approach embodied by AgJOBS that includes stronger labor rights for workers, changes to the visa program desired by employers, and a way for undocumented farm workers to earn legal status if they have worked in the agriculture industry.
Gallegly knows that California’s agriculture industry is dependent on a foreign-born and mostly unauthorized workforce. Yet, due to our broken immigration system, the foreign-born workers who comprise the overwhelming majority of our agricultural workers have few avenues to become legalized and, without them, farmers have few avenues to keep their farms operating at full capacity. It’s already bad enough. But, Gallegly is intent upon making a bad situation worse. Importing new workers through a revised H-2A program, and deporting the seasoned workers who have been here for years, is not the answer. A reasonable approach, like the AgJOBS legislation, is.
But the impact of Gallegly’s policy prescriptions will not just hurt agriculture.