The Los Angeles Times has this interesting look at how one Oceanside farm, Harry Singh & Sons, has managed to navigate the intricacies of the current federal guest worker program.

The need to establish a more employer-friendly guest worker program is one of the major sticking points in the ongoing congressional debate over immigration reform.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed immigration legislation that makes no provisions for a guest worker program while the Senate, with President Bush’s support, passed a bill that would create a new program and offer workers a path to legal permanent residence. However, the Senate version would reduce the number of guest workers admitted each year from 320,000 to 200,000.

Harry Singh & Sons imported almost half of the agricultural visa holders in California last year, bussing dozens of workers north from Mexico to tend the farm’s tomato crop, the LA Times reported. The workers are provided housing, subsidized meals, government-regulated wages at $9.00 an hour and a ride home when the harvest season is finished.

But the program hasn’t always worked so smoothly for the North County growers, who first attempted to use it to fulfill its labor needs in 2001. Delays in obtaining a necessary declaration of a labor shortage from the U.S. Department of Labor in 2001 resulted in millions of dollars worth of crops rotting in the fields.

The following year Harry Singh & Sons ran afoul of a law requiring the company to first hire qualified U.S. workers over migrants. The company was sued and settled out of court. This year, the hiring process was delayed for five-week after the Department of Homeland Security, which vets applications for worker visas, relocated its processing center, the LA Times reported.

Facing the potential of another crop loss, Luawanna Hallstrom, the farm’s general manager – who also happens to be a Schwarzenegger appointee to the state board of Food and Agriculture and a national immigration reform advocate – was forced to appeal to the White House for help.

“How many people can do that?” Hallstrom told the LA Times.


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