From Kansas a Familiar Lament: “Who Will Pick Our Crops? Who Will Milk Our Cows?”

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

February 4, 2012

Once again, the tedious lament has gone out from the agriculture and dairy industries that they are experiencing a grave labor shortage which can only be resolved by giving illegal aliens work permits and/or permanent residency.

This time the overly familiar, baseless complaints comes from Kansas where a  coalition of business groups have proposed a new program to help illegal immigrants stay in the state legally so they can hold down ag jobs. Prominent in the coalition is the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. [Kansas Agriculture Secretary Seeks Federal Waiver for Illegal immigrants, Associated Press, January 29, 2012]

Sparks will fly. The Kansas legislature, majority Republican, argues that the state has to crack down on illegal immigration. But agriculture secretary Dale Rodman announced that he will seek a waiver from the federal government to allow the aliens to remain legally.

Rodman’s spokesman confirmed that he has met various times with Department of Homeland Security officials to learn how to best implement his idea. However, the coalition’s proposal would make any special consideration from the federal government unnecessary.

As envisioned, Kansas and the coalition would create a pool of illegal immigrant workers who have been in the United States for five years and have no more than one misdemeanor other than a traffic violation on their record. Businesses could hire from the pool assuming the state certifies a “labor shortage” in their industries.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, an amnesty advocate during two Bush administrations and our enforcement ally Secretary of State Kris Kobach denounce Rodman’s waivers. And State Rep. Lance Kinzer predicted that the proposal “ unlikely to make it through the legislative procedure.”

Ag and dairy industry executives’ claims about labor shortages cannot be taken seriously. The H-2A visa allows for an unlimited number of seasonal workers. And while corporations complain that the H-2A’s bureaucratic requirements are cumbersome and time consuming, the question has to be asked: “Why don’t you do better long-term planning?” Every major employer has a five-year plan---where's yours? The H-2A is made to order for labor intensive companies.

Honestly, if you were an employer who historically relied on illegal alien labor, wouldn’t it behoove you in a politically charged atmosphere that is pushing for E-Verify to get your act in order?

Apparently, the answer is no. One reason is that state and federal governments always give businesses that claim “shortage” the benefit of the doubt, work with them to facilitate hiring aliens and ignore the H-2A.


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