Migrant worker issues affect local farms

By: Kate Tillotson
By: Kate Tillotson

If you've driven past any strawberry fields recently, you may have seen foreign workers helping with the harvest.

But one local farmer says the US Guest-Worker Program has room for improvement.

Migrant workers contend with a lot of red tape just to work here for six months. One farmer who's running for state office would like to see that change.

All summer long William Bell of Bell Farm Strawberry Patch relies on the fast fingers of ten Mexican workers.

While technology has come a long way in this world, there are still jobs that require a human hand. And these workers are fulfilling those jobs nationwide.

"We guarantee them so many hours a week at a certain amount of pay," Bell explains.

A program called H-2A gives guest workers non-immigrant visas good for six months. Both Bell and his employees sign the agreement.

But the legal tape they're required to go through is as red as the strawberries.

I-9 forms, resident alien numbers, copies of work permits and social security cards.

"We are required to accept the paperwork that they give us, even many times if we know it is false," Bell says.

It's why Bell, who's running for Commissioner of Agriculture, is pushing Congress to simplify the program.

"The government cannot require employers in this country to be the police force for their laws and legal actions."

While these migrant workers play a critical role filling the kinds of jobs so few Americans want to do, it is important that they're in our country legally.

And it is a problem.

In the last five years, four million unauthorized migrants have moved to the United States.

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