by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-LA

As David Bacon reported in Truthout recently, the Biden Administration is paying US agribusiness to import temporary workers — essentially braceros — to toil for brief periods in the fields in the US before being sent back to their countries of origin, mainly in Central America. This program  drives down wages for all farmworkers, and then subsidizes not only the farm owners but even the middle-men, legalized coyotes, who bring the campesinos up for their short-term employment, with the threat of deportation and blacklisting being used to discipline the workers and discourage organizing.

Samantha Power, the administrator of US AID under Biden-Harris, addressed a meeting of US growers and labor recruiters that she called last year, in order to intensify these US efforts at carefully controlled labor importation. She said in part:

“I want to thank Joe Martinez of Cierto Global, who I had the privilege of meeting at the Summit of the Americas in June, and the other recruiters who are joining us today for the critical linkages they are making between workers in Central America and the US….And of course, I want to thank all the agricultural employers who are here today for working together with us on what is a critical priority – expanding the pool of H-2 farmworkers from Central America, specifically from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.” H2 is a temporary visa issued to allow foreign workers to labor in the US when the labor market in the US cannot meet all the needs. As such, it flies in the face of the reality that unemployment is higher in agriculture, and there are many farmworkers already here looking for work.

Power gave three reasons for the US acting to facilitate such labor importation.  “First, it gives our [US] companies a pipeline of willing, capable temporary workers. Second, it strengthens labor protections for those workers. And third, by providing well-paying work to temporary workers who then return to their countries and invest in their communities, it alleviates the conditions that may spur someone to resort to dangerous, irregular migration.”

She goes on to say: “We worked directly with labor ministries in Central America to dramatically decrease the time it takes to match H-2 workers to employer’s requests – from 55 days to 16 in Guatemala, and these numbers are still going down every day – from 24 days to nine days in Honduras. This is why we worked with the State Department to prioritize H-2 visa applications, to the point where now our consular sections can process them in two business days. And that is why we helped ethical recruiters like Cierto make crucial linkages with [US] companies like Stemilt and AgSocio.

“As a result of this engagement, last year I’m proud to say we achieved a record number of H2 visas issued from these three countries – a nearly 40 percent increase over pre-pandemic levels. And this year, we expect to double last year’s record high to around 19,000.”

But she points out that Canada, “with 1/6 as much farmland as [the US], last year issued over ten thousand more temporary agricultural visas to these countries than we did.” She explains the vast pool o such workers available for importation. “Around 16% of El Salvador’s workforce is employed in agriculture, around one-third of Guatemala’s and Honduras’ workforces are employed in agriculture.” Because for many US growers and packers engaging in the H-2A program comes with both costs and risks, she reassured them that “the US government will be there to support you – to expedite visas, to advertise opportunities so you don’t bear all the costs, to make sure you have access to pools of experienced and capable workers, workers that will meet your needs. I’m here to say that we have got your back. We are committed to working directly with the governments in these three countries to advertise opportunities and help strengthen their procedures for recruiting, matching, and educating workers. And we are committed to helping maintain a strong pipeline of experienced farmworkers to support you.”

She noted that “the H-2A program is uncapped, and because it is expanding by over 30,000 workers every year, employing any new H-2A farm workers from Central America does not have to come at the expense of any Mexican farmworkers that you currently rely on.”

“I really hope, with USAID and the U.S. government by your side,” she said, “we can help provide life-changing opportunities to these farmworkers,  help you benefit from their hard work, and help our country grapple with the challenge of irregular migration from Central America”

The bottom line — the US government is playing a direct neo-colonial role in both disciplining and importing Central American braceros and is augmenting that with cash subsidies to the exploiters!

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