Farmer: U.S. Guest Worker Program Still ‘Riddled With Bureaucratic Procedures’

BY Elizabeth Summers  April 16, 2013 at 8:00 AM EDT

Hari Sreenivasan talks with South Carolina peach farmer Chalmers Carr about the changing debate over immigration.

The last time the nation heard the terms “amnesty” and “pathway to citizenship” batted around with such frequency was seven years ago, in the year leading up to the ultimately doomed Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The bill was a compromise championed by then-President George W. Bush that called for stronger border security and workplace enforcement laws, and would have led to legal status for immigrants in the U.S. without documentation.

The arguments on both sides sounded a whole lot like they do today. At the time, the NewsHour ran a series of one-on-one discussions, called “Immigration Insights,” with individuals exploring the concept of reform through the lens of their own involvement with immigrants.

Today, with comprehensive reform once again reportedly around the corner, we decided to go back to some of the same individuals (along with some new faces) and ask what’s changed — and what hasn’t — seven years later. Does today’s political landscape feel like history repeating itself? Have their attitudes toward immigration changed?

The guest worker program in the U.S. is one of the key factors members of Congress are examining in their quest to find common ground on immigration reform legislation. And it’s an issue that impacts South Carolina peach farmer Chalmers Carr every day.

When Ray Suarez spoke to Carr in 2006, he was feeling bogged down by the amount of paperwork required to employ foreign migrants to work the land on his Ridge Springs, South Carolina farm — the largest commercial peach operation in the southeastern United States. Carr called the nation’s H-2A guest worker program “very expensive and very cumbersome to use.”

Carr went on to explain why the vast majority of the hundreds of workers he hires each year are foreign-born. He said that in the last eight years, out of about 2,400 jobs, only 30 U.S. citizens had applied, and “only two of them” lasted more than a day.

Carr was cautiously optimistic about the ongoing debate in Washington at the time: “We’re hoping to get some true reforms to these guest worker programs that will allow employers to use legal workers and not force them to use underground workers.”

Seven years later, Carr tells Hari Sreenivasan that he still uses the H-2A program, bringing in foreign migrant workers for about 10 months at a time and paying them approximately $9 an hour. But he says the program continues to be “riddled with bureaucratic procedures that make it unfriendly to use.” And he maintains that because American citizens are still “not willing to do these jobs,” there is “obviously” a demand for this labor force.

“Any new effort, if it has a good mandatory employment verification law in it … will stop the access or the desire to come over.”
— Chalmers Carr

What would he like to see happen this time around? “Any new effort, if it has a good mandatory employment verification law in it … will stop the access or the desire to come over,” Carr says.

Ray Suarez speaks to peach farmer Chalmers Carr on Aug. 17, 2006.

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