Farms getting H2-A workers have to provide housing, and even lousy housing costs money to put up. Small farms can’t afford that. The largest growers do have the capital. Their access to H2-A is leading to even more corporate concentration of agriculture. The National Corn Growers Association alone uses 10,000 migrant workers under this program.
Private recruiting for agricultural workers in México has become a lucrative industry. Would it be better to have the governments handle the recruiting?
The Mexican and US governments administered the Bracero program, and corruption — bribe-taking and other abuses — thrived. The private labor contractors have been even worse. They’re also blacklisting activists.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee did open an office in México to monitor corruption. The staff person sent to do that work was tortured and killed for threatening the private contactors’ enormous profits. But involving the governments isn’t going to fix this. Any system based on labor recruitment for growers will be inherently abusive.
What does México want?
México has argued that getting into the US with an H2-A visa will always be safer than crossing the desert. Neoliberal Mexican politicians have promoted H2-A visas, calling them a route to jobs in the US. And many Mexican families do depend on remittances from a family member working in the US.
But AMLO, in his inauguration speech, promised to make México a country Mexicans could be happy living within, rather than one they have to leave in order to survive, and many Mexican communities are demanding the “right to stay home.” Achieving that right will require an economic development that guarantees everything from jobs at home and high farm prices for growing crops for domestic consumption to better health care and education. Economic development like that will always be incompatible with an economy based on remittances.
AMLO talks about “failed neoliberal policies” that have food produced for export rather than to feed México’s own people. Similarly, he’s criticized policies that have the Mexican people treated like products for export. But he’s proposed a new government-regulated labor export program that contradicts his promises. Work visas should be abolished and people should be treated as people, not as a commodity called “workers.”
What’s the solution?
A radical program would encompass, as the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales demands, both “the right to migrate” and “the right to stay home.” This would include demilitarizing the border, closing detention centers, and ending immigration raids, as well as stopping trade agreements that force the massive displacement of communities.
We should reinforce an immigration system based on family reunification and community stability, while protecting the wages, rights, and health of farmworkers — the alternative advanced by the civil rights movement over half a century ago.