March is too early to drag out that old, long-ago discredited “crops are rotting in the field” canard as an excuse to push for an ag amnesty — or any amnesty, really. Instead, immigration expansionists have trotted out a somewhat, but not totally, new approach: the U.S. suffers from a skilled kitchen worker shortage that’s poised to cripple the food services industry. Expansionists claim, myopically, that the only solution is more immigration.
Nearly five years ago, The Washington Post published an alarmist story titled, “The Crippling Problem Restaurant-Goers Haven’t Noticed, but Chefs are Freaking Out About.” Similar stories ran bemoaning how the alleged “dire” chef shortages will drive up restaurant meals to unaffordable levels. Congress must, the flawed argument goes, loosen the guidelines that govern non-immigrant visas like the J-1 and establish a larger H-1B visa cap, currently set at 85,000.
As the tortured logic goes, using the O-1 visa might be a novel idea. Keep in mind that the O-1 visa is reserved for “the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements,” according to the definition of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under no stretch are chefs included in the O-1 category.
The latest push for an immigration fix to end the imagined chef and food services crisis that also includes an agricultural worker scarcity originates with an MSNBC special five-part series, “What’s Eating America,” into which globalist host Andrew Zimmern injected scare talk about Immigration and Customs Enforcement swooping up otherwise innocent workers. Readers curious about ICE’s true mission, removing dangerous criminals, should visit the agency website, www.ice.gov.
Although MSNBC viewers would never know it, domestic culinary schools in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major metroplex areas offer diplomas that lead aspiring American chefs toward employment in quality restaurants as line cooks, pastry chefs and bread bakers. Community colleges, trade schools, high schools and prisons have developed food science courses that graduate thousands of qualified apprentices annually. Hiring Americans, providing on-the-job training to young Americans in a well-paying career with upward mobility, and giving a second chance to the deserving doesn’t fit the agenda of immigration advocate Zimmern.
The MSNBC mini-series made no mention of lasting solutions like farm mechanization that has transformed agriculture and is successful with domestic crops, including blueberries and tomatoes. In the 1960s, tomato growers insisted that the Bracero guest worker program was absolutely essential to their industry’s survival. Nevertheless, Congress discontinued the Bracero program. Growers then invested in new mechanized innovations. The result: Tomato production increased several-fold over the following decades, and real prices fell.
Not coincidentally, the MSNBC program came on the heels of the Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, H.R. 5038, that passed the House of Representatives in December. If signed into law, the bill would include lifetime valid employment authorization documents, Green Cards and a path to citizenship for up to 1.5 million illegal aliens who have been employed — or claim they’ve been employed — in agriculture at least part-time during the last two years.
Weekend-only field work would qualify. Amnesty would also be granted to the workers’ family members. Ag worker shortages have been claimed since at least 2007 when Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein insisted that more liberal guest worker legislation is “a top priority” without which “many of our farms would not survive.” More than 13 years later, farming is still alive and well. Being more wrong than Feinstein is impossible.
Since robotics means ag work can be performed 24/7, often faster, more efficiently and without the potential physical or emotional drawbacks that humans bring, the industry should embrace it. Equally important, Congress should reject bills like H.R. 5038, and instead demand that big ag get its act together, and invest in the industry’s future — automation. The Senate, wisely, has not taken up the bill, effectively killing it. All future ag amnesties deserve the same — DOA.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at email@example.com.