Immigration Reform and the Agricultural Labor Force

Thompson, Gary D.; Martin, Philip L.
August 1991
Labor Law Journal;Aug91, Vol. 42 Issue 8, p528
Academic Journal
This article looks at the immigration reform and the agricultural labor force in the U.S. in 1991. Agriculture was the only sector of the U.S. economy to be given preferential treatment in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). The 800,000 farm employers are about 13 percent of all U.S. employers, but the nation's three million farmworkers are only two percent of the 130 million persons who are employed sometime during a typical year. Farmers feared that IRCA would reduce their access to illegal immigrant workers, so an agricultural amnesty for undocumented field workers employed in perishable commodity production was created. The Special Agricultural Worker (SAW) program was created apart from the general amnesty program for undocumented workers in all other sectors of the economy. In addition to the SAW program, a Replenishment Agricultural Worker program was established to provide replacement field workers should the SAW leave agriculture. The existing agricultural guest-worker program now known as the H-2A program was also streamlined to expedite hiring of foreign guest-workers. Public policy analysts have sought to improve the non-immigrant farmworker program instead of developing an immigrant worker program for agriculture. Admitting immigrants and confining them to a particular economic sector runs counter to the quest for treating all immigrants equally.


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