Sort & Cull

The Nauseating Process of Stuffing Guest-Worker Reform Sausage

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

The great German statesman Otto Von Bismarck is usually given credit for the famous description of legislation's messy nature: "Laws are like sausages. Better not to see them being made."

While I'm not too schooled in Prussian history, my German grandparents certainly loved making bratwursts and frankfurters, guarding family recipes like they were the equivalent of the nuclear code.

So the suggestion that some guy named "Otto" envisioned the queasy manipulation of slimy organ meat, mouth-burning spices and hog intestines in the often nauseating face of lawmaking does not surprise me in the least.

In fact, the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol was such a chaotic kitchen and kill floor this week that only the fortunate absence of USDA inspectors averted a constitutional crisis.

As the controversial meat in the grinder oozed into contested casings, sausage sponsors soon up for reelection were hoping to create digestible links of immigration reform, wieners palatable enough to at least satisfy a working majority.

But after tasting multiple samples of baloney, it became obvious that not enough representatives could keep anything down long enough for a successful vote.

Although I certainly didn't think any of these fatty bangers deserved to be reconsidered by the judges at the Munich Sausage Festival, the early rejection of the offering by Congressman Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, struck me as a bit hasty. Though I may have required a larger stein of beer to swallow his entire bill, Goodlatte proposed the only immigration program seen so far this year to seriously include guest-worker reform.

Presented for a House vote early Thursday, Goodlatte's bill would have scrapped the current H-2A temporary ag worker program and replaced it with a new program that would allow farmers and other employers to bring in 410,000 foreign workers for farm jobs, as well as 40,000 foreign workers for meatpacking plants.

In place since the mid-1990s, H-2A has long been criticized for not bringing enough foreign workers and not allowing them to stay long enough (i.e., eight months). Goodlatte's bill recognized that both of these short-coverings had to be addressed for the good of agriculture's dangerously low labor pool.

While the chairman's bill contained many other contentious proposals (e.g., aggressive wall-funding, a reduction of otherwise legal immigration, a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, a requirement for employers to use an internet-based system called E-Verify to confirm that they are hiring legal workers), some of which no doubt trumped possible admiration for the guest-worker reform, the effort at least needs to be saluted for recognizing one of the most serious problems facing a wide array of agricultural producers and processors.

Frankly, given the sorry state of farm labor, I was surprised that the NPPC seemed to be the only major ag organization and lobby to express support for Goodlatte's focus on the country's growing labor shortage. Furthermore, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton tells me that virtually no one in the U.S. Senate is currently willing to take up the guest-worker torch for agriculture.

I suppose a big part of the problem is that it gets lost in the bigger whirlwind of immigration politics. With so much noise about building the wall, guarding the borders and dealing with the "Dreamers," the guest-worker issue to many seems like a salmon swimming upstream.

By the time the 115th session of Congress closes in December, it will probably leave a small plate of edible sausage and a very large trash barrel filled with charcuterie mistakes. I can only hope that if lawmakers get around to adequately stuffing a reasonable hot dog of immigration reform it includes a good deal of guest-worker help for agriculture.

-- John A. Harrington

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