• 'In Mexico, they pay very little'

    Guest-worker rules can be hard to meet
  • CRUMPLER, N.C. — There are millions of undocumented workers in America, and thousands of employers who illegally hire them.
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  • CRUMPLER, N.C. — There are millions of undocumented workers in America, and thousands of employers who illegally hire them.
    But Rodolfo Benito Coy Garcia and Rusty Barr play by the rules.
    Barr is an employer and Garcia his employee, one who travels from Mexico to spend 10 months of the year planting, fertilizing and harvesting Christmas trees in this tiny mountain town near the Tennessee state line.
    For both, following the law has disadvantages. Barr must go through a lengthy, complicated and expensive process to hire Garcia, spending more than his competitors, who he says employ undocumented migrants. Garcia must leave behind his family for most of the year to work a job that pays little by American standards, with no chance of becoming a citizen in the country where he has spent much of his adult life.
    "I miss my family, yes," said Garcia, whose wife and two daughters live in Tamaulipas, a Mexican state that borders Texas. "But we come here to support our families and provide our kids with a better education."
    Much of the debate over immigration reform has focused on the millions of undocumented workers living in the U.S. But many say fixes must also be made to the programs that bring tens of thousands of guest workers to America every year to work at farms, hotels and restaurants. Such programs were among those that led to a standoff between congressional negotiators before their spring recess. (A tentative agreement reached over the weekend covered some low-wage workers but not agricultural employees.)
    Employers say that the H-2A agricultural visa program, under which Garcia is employed, is broken, and that the complicated rules and high costs push employers to hire undocumented workers. Labor advocates say that the programs create a group of second-class citizens who are brought here to do grueling and often dangerous work without protection against abuses.
    Placating both sides will be a challenge.
    "There's no obviously correct answer as to how easy it should be to use this program," said Madeleine Sumption, an analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
    These are not jobs generally sought by citizens. Last year, the North Carolina Growers Association, which helps farmers such as Barr fill out the H-2A paperwork, spent $98,000 on advertising for the 8,000 jobs its members were seeking to fill. Just More than 250 U.S. workers applied for the jobs, but 70 never showed up, about 180 quit in the first two days, and just 10 finished the season.
    "That's the frustration; the whole program is set up to give preference to U.S. workers," said Lee Wicker, the group's deputy director. "But U.S. workers don't want to do these jobs, and I don't say I blame them."
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