According to the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), Fellsmere, Florida is among Florida locations with the most amount of Hispanic of Mexican descendents.
At a the County level there are more Spanish speaking people in Miami-Dade.
FWAF is a membership organization with roots in the Hispanic, Haitian, and African-American communities across Central and South Florida. As a grassroots, farmworker-membership, community-based organization, FWAF is lead and governed by the farmworker communities in which they work.
Fellsmere has a population of 5,424, has a medium income of $ 26,054, and an unemployment rate of 8.2% and 42.9% are at poverty level. Fellsmere’s unemployment rate of 8.2% is 76% higher than the National average.
areavibes.com reports that 81% of the 5,424 population speaks Spanish = a Spanish speaking city of 4,393. FWAF represents roughly 600 farmworkers.
With an unemployment rate of 8.2%, one the FWAF’s legislative initiatives is to lobby against the Agriculture Guestworker Act (AG ACT) introduced on October 23, 2017 in US House of Representatives by House Judiciary Committee chair Robert Goodlatte, (R., Vir.) who is retiring this year.
A key component of the bill would replace the H-2A visa with an H-2C visa, which is a guest worker provision that provides agriculture and dairy with “year-round,” documented labor.
The H-2C visa would allow workers to stay in the United States year-round on a 36-month, renewable visa.
The current H-2A program only allows temporary workers to stay in the United States nine months.
Why is FWAF opposed to the H-2C Visa?
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting professions in Fellsmere represent 13.5%, compared to a National average of 1.3%. (Source: bestplaces.net)
Yet Fellsmere’s unemployment rate of 8.2% is 76% higher than the National average.
Despite the 40% decline in citrus as agriculture in the past 10 years, Fellsmere has a flourishing agriculture industry, such as B&W Quality Growers, the world’s largest growers of speciality baby leaves (watercress and arugula) for over 145 years.
The large farms have been using the H-2A programs to attract documented migrant workers to work on their farms, siding apart workers who are already there and have a skill-set for the work; but that not be undocumented. One farm we found advertises the H-2A program on its website.
With the H-2C visa the risk of more workers being displaced increases, since workers would be allowed to stay year-round on a 36-month, renewable visa. FWAF estimates harvesting companies bring in 120-200 people from Mexico each year, many of whom don’t have the required skills.
The H-2A visa allowances have displaced Fellmere workers, requiring them to get up at 4:00 a.m. and drive to the Tampa or Orlando region for other work.
That is why FWAF has been lobbying against the Agriculture Guestworker Act (AG ACT).
Keep Fellsmere workers in Fellsmere.
Rep. Goodlatte’s Bill (HR 4092 AG ACT) was thought to be dead, as he is retiring. It was ordered to be reported to the Committee on Judiciary on 10/25/17.
But on 2/28/18 Carol Miller of Growing Produce wrote that “The new version of Rep. Goodlatte’s H-2C has changed enough from the original that previous supporters are now opposing the bill, including Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau Federation.
The American Farm Bureau, which supports the bill, agrees more needs to be done to protect existing workers.
The following caveat is included in the American Farm Bureau’s statement of support:
“We are continuing to work with Chairman Goodlatte and other members of Congress to provide greater assurances on how the AG Act would affect our existing workforce. Farmers today rely on these workers. They sustain our farms. They are part of the fabric of many rural economies. Farm Bureau policy supports providing these workers the opportunity to earn permanent legal status. That is our goal and we will do everything we can to achieve it.”
David J. Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, wrote on October 24, 2017:
“The ‘Agricultural Guestworker Act’ (Ag Act) would greatly expand the liberty of Americans to contract with foreign workers through a new temporary work visa program. Foreign agricultural workers allow farms to expand production, lower prices, and raise incomes for most workers in the United States. Government intervention in the labor market inhibits the ability of farmers to plan the planting and harvesting of crops appropriately, leading to a reduction in production at the start of the season or crops rotting at the end.”
The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries.
Mr. Bier’s comments are clearly not to help the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Alternatively, in the same year, Senator Diane Feinstein introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act (S.1034), also known as the Blue Card. This proposal will provide farm workers who can prove continuum agricultural work for at least three years without a criminal record a path to citizenship is they stay working in agriculture for an additional five years.
The Blue Card for these workers will follow residency (Green Card) with after 10 years without a criminal record can secure citizenship.
The FWAF believes that 15 years is a long period of time, taking into consideration that many of these workers have been here for over 10 years; but thinks that it is a compromise that surpasses the benefits for these families.
~ Fellsmere Farm Workers ~