Climate change may be the issue that forces the hand of Congress on immigration, as legal guest workers become essential to tree-planting operations — an effective tool in reducing carbon emissions.
Trees bind carbon as they grow, and thus forests come to serve as carbon sinks. In contrast, deforestation and forest fires release carbon into the air. The old argument over whether forests affect climate may be resolved at last.
For two weeks in December 2007, all eyes were on Bali, Indonesia, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) was in session. High on the list of topics discussed by delegates from most of the world’s nations was forest ecology.
Although the current U.N. climate pact, the Kyoto Protocol unsigned by major players such as China, India, and the United States, failed to address deforestation, the Bali conference did. Responding to pressure from developing nations and environmentalists worldwide, China, India, and the United States agreed to two years of talks on ways to curb deforestation; although no commitments were made.
A UNCCC report entitled "Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD)," established guidelines for a pay-and-preserve forest plan with the potential to slow global warming. The REDD plan proposes marketable carbon credits for developing nations that preserve their forestlands. Such credits, when purchased by wealthier nations to offset their carbon emissions, could mean billions of dollars to help developing nations manage sustainable forestlands. The need for such action is evidenced by recent catastrophic mud slides in Indonesia and, closer to home, in the western United States. These mud slides triggered by unregulated logging and wildfires.
Sustainable forest management — key in addressing climate change — is something that the nations of the world and the United States, in particular, can do. This is where guest workers enter the picture. Currently immigrants with legal visas issued by the U.S. State Department are working to reforest areas such as those deforested by the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.
Although immigrant special interest groups lament that the U.S. immigration system is broken and needs fixing, and the media accept this as fact, the visa system that currently allows guest workers to come to the United States part of each year to plant trees is working very well. There are waiting lists of employers seeking legal guest workers. Why not increase the number of guest worker visas issued each year by the United States?
The increasing need for legal forest workers could force Congress to come to its senses and shake off the open-border foolishness that has produced fatally flawed immigration legislation in the past.
The Forestry Source, a news publication of the Society of American Foresters, reported in December 2007 on a shortage of guest workers that is hurting reforestation efforts. The article stated that most of the forest seedlings planted in the United States, especially in the Southeast and the West, are planted by guest workers from Mexico and Central America who hold H-2B visas.
Forest contractors are dissatisfied by a requirement that to be certified by the U.S. Department of Labor for the H-2 visa program, they must first advertise for workers who are U.S. citizens. Contractors complain that if they need 200 workers, occasionally five or six U.S. citizens may show up, but upon learning that the job requires manual labor, strict working hours, work discipline, and reliability, the citizen-applicants either turn down the job or quit after a few days.
Such ads, they say, are a waste of time and money. It is far easier and cheaper to hire illegal aliens than to endure the countless hours of paperwork and government hassles involved in hiring legal guest workers each year. Illegal aliens are working tree-planting jobs; but how many, no one knows.
What is the answer for law-abiding businesses that depend on guest workers, especially in job areas that require hard manual labor in tough environments? An expanded H-2B visa program to provide guest workers for forest-planting firms engaged in reforestation and forest management.
Roots of the Guest-Worker Program
Guest workers began coming to the United States through The Mexican American Bracero Agreement (Mexican Farm Labor Program) or “Bracero Program” initiated by the United States and Mexico and signed on July 23, 1942, to supplement the loss of agricultural farm workers who were entering the military and war production facilities. “Bracero” comes from the Spanish “brazo” or arm; thus workers using their arms in the fields came to be known as “bracero” (manual labor).
Then, as now, the workers made 10 times or more what they could earn in Mexico; but in contrast to today, braceros were able to return to their families for part of each year and then legally reenter the United States for work each following year.
In the post-war years, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 (8 USC 1101 et seq.) continued to provide for foreign temporary workers in an H-2 visa program. Then in 1964, the Democrat-controlled U.S. government (White House and both Houses of Congress) ended the Bracero Program, because of alleged exploitation of the seasonal workers. Rather than improve the program, Congress terminated it — a major mistake.
In place of the Bracero Program, the Democrat radical left supported formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. The UFW supports extremists, most of them illegal aliens, who today take to the streets waving Mexican flags and signs claiming that the Southwestern United States is actually part of Mexico and “Gringos must go.”
The Cellar-Hart immigration legislation, the Immigration & Naturalization Services Act of 1965 (INSA), was an integral part of President Lyndon Johnson’s restructuring of U.S. immigration. Among the lasting effects of INSA are changes in immigration quotas to favor Third-World nations, a broadening of the “amnesty” concept, and a concurrent increase in illegal alien entries.
The Johnson Era, influenced by radical nihilist academicians, introduced the “Great Society” and “War on Poverty.” It brought the hippie “me” generation symbolized by Woodstock, “if it feels good do it,” anti-war America-haters, denigrating cultural, political, and social discourse, and waging a frontal attack on the heritage of the nation. This attack compounded the failure of immigrants (legal and illegal) to assimilate, many retaining mores that clash with those of the United States.
Some 20 years later, the 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA), which triggered the current tsunami of illegal immigration, subdivided the H-2 visa program into H-2A and H-2B visas, setting different requirements for each.
Climate Change and Immigration
The pressing need to curb deforestation in developing nations and replant logged or burned over forestlands in developed nations, including the United States, requires a corps of legal guest workers to carry out major tree-planting operations. A legislative initiative is needed to reinstate legal visas for guest workers, especially forest workers, granting them legal entry to the United States to work part of each year.
Legal guest workers and border control could help eliminate illegal entries. Thomas Friedman, in a column on the United Nations Climate Change Conference, wrote, “Deforestation actually accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and trucks in the world, an issue the Bali conference finally addressed.” He noted that too many countries are devouring their own and their neighbors’ forest resources at an alarming rate.
U.S. foresters have been preaching for more than a century that the loss of forests and failure of governments to correct the problem with forest conservation programs would lead to a wood famine. America’s early foresters focused more on a lack of lumber; but today a wood famine could signify the release of vast, damaging carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
The current agricultural guest worker program (H-2A visa) and the H-2B visa program that allows immigrants to enter the United States temporarily to work in construction, landscaping, hospitality, and other non-farm or forest work, are bogged down in Congress-induced bureaucratic red-tape. Since 2006, a total of 66,000 H-2B workers are allowed into the United States each year. During the past decade, each successive Congress has restructured existing immigration laws, including H-2 visa provisions, creating the proverbial paper nightmare for businesses in need of guest workers and trying to comply with U.S. immigration laws.
Meanwhile Congress maintains the cap on H-2 guest workers at 66,000. As of October 1, 2007, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported receiving petitions for H-2B visas that reached the Congressional cap of 33,000 for the first half of fiscal year 2008 (October through March). What will happen to reforestation projects? Forest contractors, who must compete with resorts, restaurants, hotels, landscapers, construction companies, tent erection and special events companies, among others, report that they are falling short of workers by the tens of thousands.
Climate change may force Congress’ hand. One size does not fit all. In the 21st century, agriculture and forestry rank among the world’s leading businesses. The people of the United States need clean air and clean water, and healthy forests contribute both. To alleviate the impacts of climate change, Congress must address the labor needs of U.S. reforestation efforts.
It is time to put aside special interests and fix the flaws in U.S. immigration legislation. The fate of our forests may well depend on clearing the current logjam of legal guest workers.
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