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October 2017, Volume 23, Number 4

Trump, RAISE, Ag

President Trump in July 2017 said that the US does not need a wall along the entire 2,000-mile Mexico-US border; he said "from 700 to 900 miles" of wall would be sufficient. Some 654 miles of the Mexico-US border now have fencing or vehicle barriers. Trump requested $1.6 billion for 74 miles of new or replacement barriers. The Mexico-US border wall is widely seen as a symbol of Trump's get tough stance on illegal migration.

Trump's March 6, 2017 executive order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals continued to generate news. Federal courts blocked most of the "Muslim ban" from going into effect, but the US Supreme Court in June 2017 allowed DHS to block the entry of foreigners from six countries who have no "bona fide relationship" to US residents until it hears arguments in Fall 2017.

In September 2017, Trump added three countries to the list of five whose citizens face travel restrictions, including Chad, North Korea and Venezuela, so that citizens of eight countries face barriers to entering the US. The new travel ban uses objective criteria and imposes different restrictions on different countries. The criteria to determine whether countries face travel restrictions include the integrity of passports; whether a country shares information with the US about suspected terrorists; and the national-security risk presented by each country.

White House advisor Stephen Miller is generally credited with persuading Trump to maintain a focus on immigration enforcement. Polls in ten swing states, according to Miller, show that "Immigration policy affects every aspect of life ? incomes, schools, hospitals, community resources. Prioritizing the needs of American workers over powerful special interests is not merely a core issue for Republicans, but also for independents and massive numbers of Democrats."

Miller's presence in the White House ensures that Trump continues to feature "angel moms" at rallies, mothers of US citizens killed by unauthorized foreigners. This is a major change from President Obama, who showcased DACA Dreamers, unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and graduated from US high schools.

RAISE. President Trump in August 2017 endorsed S 1720, the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which would eliminate the diversity visa program, restrict refugee admissions to 50,000 a year, and narrow the definition of family for immigration purposes to spouses and minor children under 18, down from the current age 21. Parents of US citizens would be granted renewable temporary visas that prohibit them from receiving federal welfare benefits.

The Trump administration announced that 45,000 refugees would be resettled in the US in FY18, the lowest number in decades.

Reducing the admission of members of extended families could reduce immigration from a million a year to 500,000 a year. Some of the extended relatives of US citizens who would no longer be admitted to the US are low skilled, prompting a discussion of the impact of low-skilled immigrants on the US economy. George Borjas has found that adding more low-skilled migrants reduces the wages of similar US-born workers by up to five percent.

RAISE would introduce a points-based system modeled on Canada's to select the 140,000 immigrants and their families who are admitted for employment reasons; about half of these 140,000 visas go to workers. Points for a high-wage US job (up to 13), for English (up to 12), for being near age 25 (up to 10 points), for an advanced STEM degree (up to 13), and for investing at least $1.35 million in the US (up to 12) would be totaled, and those with the most points would get immigrant visas.

President Trump in August 2017 pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa county (Phoenix) Arizona for 24 years. Arpaio was ordered in 2011 to stop detaining people in the Phoenix area based solely on suspicion that they were unauthorized, and was convicted of disobeying the court's order.

Agriculture. Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on October 2, 2017 introduced the Agricultural Guestworker Act to replace the current H-2A with a new H-2C program that would allow up to 500,000 guest workers to be admitted each year, with provisions to increase the number if all are requested. Unauthorized workers in the US and current H-2A workers who receive H-2C visas are excluded, so there could be up to two million H-2C workers after several years.

Employers of H-2C workers would attest to their need for guest workers and would have to hire qualified US workers until the date that guest workers departed for US jobs. H-2C workers would not have to be provided with free transportation to the US or housing.

The AEWR would be the higher of 115 percent of the federal minimum wage or the state or local minimum wage. Unauthorized foreigners in the US could receive H-2C visas, but they would have to return to their countries of origin briefly when the H-2C visas they received after converting from unauthorized to H-2C status expire.

Workers would be guaranteed work for half of the hours promised by employers, down from the current three-fourths guarantee. In case of disputes, H-2C workers must seek intervention from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service before filing suits against their employers.

Goodlatte's bill would withhold 10 percent of H-2C worker wages, and repay them in the worker's country of origin at a US embassy, consulate or other US-approved place.

Farm employers praised Goodlatte's bill, while worker advocates denounced it. Farm employers would save on transportation and housing costs as well as wages, and would save on recruitment costs if currently unauthorized workers became H-2C workers. Worker advocates emphasized that, unlike the AgJOBS Act that was negotiated with farmers in 2000, Goodlatte's bill does not provide an easy path from unauthorized farm worker to immigrant status.

NumbersUSA took the lead to block a markup planned for October 4, 2017, arguing that allowing currently unauthorized farm workers to become H-2A workers was a "mini-amnesty."

The House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing on guest workers July 19, 2017 that featured farm employers requesting three-year visas for migrants to fill year-round jobs in dairies. Some witnesses emphasized that the arrival of fewer unauthorized newcomers has increased interest in labor-saving farm technologies; they appealed for government subsidies to speed the development of machines that can replace workers. Driscoll's, which accounts for a third of US berry production and two-thirds of organic berries, expects higher labor costs to accelerate production of berries in containers rather than in the ground, and the development of separate scout and harvest robots to pick them.

There were reports of farm labor shortages. The Economist on July 27, 2017 repeated estimates that labor shortages led to $3 billion a year in farm revenue losses between 2002 and 2014, although there is no statistical basis for such a revenue loss. The article featured Limoneria, a Ventura lemon farm that pays wages higher than the minimum but cannot attract US workers. Flexibility in low-wage labor markets such as agriculture is often on the demand rather than the supply side of the labor market, which means that rising wages prompt labor-saving changes before they rise high enough to attract US workers.

The annual average hourly earnings of US field workers in the NASS Farm Labor Survey rose from $8.10 to $12.25 between 2000 and 2016, up 51 percent (nominal). In California, annual average hourly earnings of field workers rose from $8.21 to $12.44, up 52 percent.