TOOMBS CO., GA (WTOC) - Local farmers have a vested interest in the ongoing immigration debate, specifically allowing documented immigrants to come to the U.S. to pick and process crops for a season.
Congress has proposed changes to that plan in front of them on Monday. If you talk to farmers who use the federal worker program H2A, they'll tell you it's way overdue for an update. It's been connecting migrants and farmers for two decades.
Farmers have used the program for decades to get documented migrant workers to help for a crop season, but onion growers like Bo Herndon say it doesn't give them any flexibility to adjust. The proposed update would change parts of the program. It would allow workers to sign with a farmer for multiple seasons and give growers some flexibility for a crop that develops earlier or later than scheduled.
"There are parts of this bureaucracy that give some of our producers headaches every year," said Gary Black, GA Commissioner of Agriculture.
"It's kind of hard to judge our crops and know, 60 days out, when are onions are ready," Hernon said. "It ties our hands. We have to be at least 60 days out to tell them when we need these people here."
The proposed H2C plan would ban any worker who doesn't leave the country after the work period. It would also withhold a portion of the wages that the worker would collect back in their home country,
Commissioner Black says the new plan helps streamline the system. It also offers incentives.
"They're calling for 10 percent of the wages to be collected when they go back to the U.S. Embassy in their home country.
Hernon just wants a system he can follow.
"I can't farm without workers. I don't care where they come from. I just need workers," he said.
We're following the debate and will let you know what happens.