John Harold is trying to do the right thing when it comes to harvesting his 1,000-acre Colorado farm, by hiring only legal foreign workers and, this summer, offering more positions to unemployed locals. But “it didn’t take me six hours to realize I’d made a heck of a mistake,” Harold tells the New York Times. That's how long it took for the local workers he'd hired to start walking off the job, many because the work was too hard. Harold salvaged his season only by rushing in new workers from Mexico.
“It’s absolutely true that people who have played by the rules are having the toughest time of all,” says Colorado Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet. Harold and others who participate in the federal H-2A program, which brings seasonal foreign workers into the US, cut back on the number of foreign workers hired for this season when the program pushed its minimum wage requirement up to $10.50 per hour. But even in a normal year, H-2A doesn't make things easy for farmers, who first must prove they've attempted to hire locally. “Farmers have to bear almost all the labor market risk because they must prove no one really was available, qualified, or willing to work,” says one expert. “But the only way to offer proof is to literally have a field left unharvested." (Read more migrant labor stories.)