In its editorial “Ease path to hire farmworkers for state agriculture,” The Herald Editorial Board recommends that the U.S. immigration system needs reform. We agree. That reform, however, should not include expanding the H-2A visa system.
Columbia Legal Services has represented many agricultural workers who have suffered abuses under the H-2A visa program. We are not alone in raising these concerns. In August, stae Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Ostrom Mushroom Farms in Sunnyside for a multitude of abuses under the H-2A visa program. In 2021, a federal investigation in Georgia unveiled shocking abuses, with H-2A workers being forced to work at gunpoint and even sold to farms in other states. The U.S. Attorney in Georgia at the time referred to these practices as akin to “modern-day slavery.”
Since the H-2A visa ties a worker to a specific employer, those workers cannot simply leave and work elsewhere if they face abuse, unsafe housing or working conditions, or wage theft. Workers who try to advocate for themselves or others routinely face retaliation and are placed on do-not-hire lists by the recruiters in their home countries who fill H-2A positions for U.S. employers.
There are humane ways to address worker shortages through immigration. The H-2A visa system is not one of them.
Columbia Legal Services
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