On the Hot Seat: State shouldn't meddle in H-2A guest worker program

How arrogant.
A group of Puget Sound lawmakers — all Democrats — believes the state can better administer and direct compliance of the federal H-2A foreign guest worker program while assisting farmers, orchardists, ranchers and vineyards find the labor they need to manage their crops.
At the request of the state Employment Securities Department, Sens. John McCoy, Rebecca Saldana, Bob Hasegawa, Steve Conway, Kevin Van De Wege, Karen Keiser, Christine Rolfes, Lisa Wellman, Manka Dhingra and Patty Kuderer have signed onto Senate Bill 5438.
The proponents live in places like Bainbridge Island, Tacoma, Seattle, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Bellevue. Yeah, right, the heart of farm country where they grow big government, asphalt and skyscrapers.
Aside from Sen. Van De Wege, I’d be surprised if any of these proponents have any knowledge of the farming industry. To be fair to Van De Wege, I’m sure he knows a bit about agriculture, as his district includes the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, home of the state’s budding lavender industry.
But I’d venture a guest that none of the lavender farms rely as heavily on foreign “guest workers” as places like Gebbers Farms in Brewster. Last time I checked, Gebbers was the largest family-owned orchard company in the county.
Several years back, a Immigration and Customs Enforcement action prompted many illegal aliens to pack up and leave the region. When locals didn’t step up to fill the jobs, Gebbers Farms responded by hiring seasonal guest workers from Jamaica.
The business provided housing, transportation and other necessities for its guest workers, as did other Eastern Washington growers and producers.
Take a ride through the Moses Lake and Quincy areas, down the Vantage Highway and up in to the Yakima Valley and you’ll find many farms, orchards and vineyards that have built housing for the men and women who put in a hard day’s work “on the farm.” You’ll also see yellow school buses transporting workers to and from jobs, to grocery stores and other places. And when the growing season comes to a close, you’ll see those same businesses helping, and encouraging, their workers return to their home countries.
And they do it all under the watchful eye of the federal government.
Sure, some guest workers slip through the cracks and overstay their visas. But with only 14 employees in the proposed new state agency, do you really think that will change?
Creating another state agency with the ability to tax or levy fees isn’t the answer — especially when the Employment Security Department wants to tax farmers an estimated $250,000 for each new state employee in the next biennium, and that’s just the buy-in for a new program. Imagine how expensive the redundant office will be once more bureaucrats get into those jobs and tell lawmakers they don’t have the manpower to ensure compliance.
This is just another boondoggle from state bureaucrats who want to fill their coffers with more money on the backs of hardworking ruralites.
State officials say Washington gets about $300,000 from the federal government for helping to monitor the H-2A program annually. So why do westside city slickers now think they need more than five times that much?
And why do they think famers will pony up more application fees and fees for each employee they hire? There’s a risk that the cost will put several growers out of business, or at the very least cause grocery prices to increase. There’s also the risk that farmers start hire and pay workers “under the table.”
Rather than put more financial burden on growers and producers, the state should start reining in welfare and other costs.
Rather than just giving away free money and growing government, Washington taxpayers would be better off requiring state assistance recipients to work, in one form or another. I’m not necessarily talking about hard labor — have them pick up trash, take care of parks, answer telephones, something. In addition, there should be a time limit on receiving welfare, food stamps and free health care.
Give residents some self-respect rather than freebies in perpetuity. But I guess that doesn’t fit the political agenda of the tax-and-spend Democrats behind this effort, their puppetmasters or the government employees trying to create their own, protected fiefdoms.
Here’s an idea: Let producers and growers continue working within the already established H-2A program. (It’s a federal program, let the feds own it, and be responsible for its success or failure.) And let them keep their hard-earned $3.5 billion. They money they save may be cash that fuels the rural community in which you live, work and recreate.

— Roger Harnack is the publisher and editor of the Statesman-Examiner and Deer Park Tribune. Email him at publisher@statesmanexaminer.com.