Jimmy Gentry, Vice President of the National Grange and President of the North Carolina State Grange, along with other leaders in agriculture, attended a roundtable meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on March 26 to discuss immigration reform, particularly as related to the need for an affordable guest worker program for agriculture.
The current H2A program provides a means for legally utilizing foreign labor, but many complain that this program is costly and cumbersome. As a result, illegal workers continue to be used as workers on some farms.
During the discussion at the Charlotte Farmer’s Market in Charlotte, N.C., Vilsack listened as participants shared criticism about the current H2A program, and expressed a need for reform. Participants agreed that a need exists for a program that is more affordable while providing an ample work force and that it is necessary to reduce bureaucracy associated with the program.
The National Grange and the North Carolina State Grange have advocated for reforms to the H2A program for many years, but Congress has failed to tackle this issue. However, agricultural labor may be addressed as part of an upcoming immigration reform package.
The National Grange policy regarding H2A, adopted by delegates from State Granges across the country, reads, “The National Grange supports continuation of the legal program to bring guest workers into the United States on a temporary basis for the harvesting of seasonal crops. We support reform of current foreign guest worker programs to allow for expedited processing of foreign guest workers employed in the agricultural sector as well as reform of the H2A program so that the wage costs to farmers when hiring under the H2A program more closely reflects the prevailing local wage.”
“I am pleased that Secretary Vilsack traveled to North Carolina to meet with farmers, agriculture association leaders, and associated agency representatives, to gather input that may be valuable for crafting new legislation,” Gentry said. “It is extremely important for our agriculture producers to have access to a reliable and affordable labor force.”