Pompeo: Border Open to H-2A Workers

Most Cross-Border Movement Banned, But Ag Designated Essential Infrastructure


By Chris Clayton, DTN/Progressive Farmer



OMAHA (DTN) -- The Trump administration announced it would limit nonessential travel across the borders with both Canada and Mexico, but officials also assured that guest workers would continue to be allowed into the country.


During a briefing at the White House on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to H-2A agricultural workers as one of the groups exempt from border closure with Mexico.


"We're real concerned about H-2A visas and particularly agricultural workers who are going to need to get across," Pompeo said. "We're going to make sure we do everything we can to keep that part of our economic lifeblood working between our two countries."


Pompeo said the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department will work together to keep essential industries moving across borders.


"We want to make sure we keep commerce between Canada, the United States and Mexico alive, functional and prepared for the day the economy bounces back like we expect that it will," he said.


Responding to questions from DTN, a spokesperson for the State Department on Friday afternoon said that each consulate and embassy office worldwide is reviewing its capacity to interview and complete H-2A visa applications. Offices will continue processing H-2A cases as much as possible while trying to ensure social distancing recommended by health authorities.


"We are well aware of the importance of the H-2 program to the economy and food security of the United States. We are reviewing all possible options," the State Department spokesperson said in an email to DTN. "As a matter of policy, consular sections worldwide prioritize H-2A applications, given the significant economic importance of these workers for farmers and small business."


Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and a Georgia farmer, also stressed in a call with reporters Friday the importance of tamping down rumors that the country is facing a food shortage. Changes in consumer buying have caused empty spots on the shelves at grocery stores, but Duvall said supply lines are shifting as companies divert food from restaurants to grocers.


"We do not face a shortage of food. The rumor has persisted and it is causing unnecessary alarm," Duvall said.


Further, notices from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation in recent days have listed agriculture and food production as essential critical infrastructure so facilities can remain open and truck drivers can receive waivers on hours of service to deliver goods.


"The food supply chain remains strong today, and farmers and ranchers are committed to maintain it," Duvall said.


While labor is the top issue spotlighted by AFBF, Duvall on Friday also pointed out the struggles facing farmers who sell at farmers markets around the country that are now shut down. Those farmers rely on those weekly sales, he said. Duvall also cited anecdotes of cattle producers losing significant value because of the market drop and vineyards that have lost their traditional sales to restaurants and bars.


"I share these examples because I want to convey that it's real, and it's personal and it's having a major impact on American agriculture," Duvall said.


AFBF staff also said they support some of the proposals in Congress for farm relief that would include raising USDA's current dollar authority for the Commodity Credit Corp. to help provide aid to different agricultural sectors. Duvall also said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue should consider another Market Facilitation Program for 2020.


"We are approaching the time we are starting to talk about having another MFP payment," Duvall said. He added, "We think we're getting real close to needing that."