Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Fact-checking Marco Rubio's immigration claims

One reason the United States needs immigration reform is to bring in more farm workers, says U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio is supporting an immigration proposal unveiled last month by a bipartisan group of senators.

Rubio has been defending his framework to conservative audiences, including a Jan. 30 column for the website

"Agriculture has always required a significant workforce from abroad, but we do not have a system through which growers and dairies can bring a workforce legally into the U.S.," Rubio said.

We decided to check his history, as well as if there's a system for bringing in workers now.

Foreign workers

Over the past 15 years, about half of hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, according to research based on the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey.

Rubio's office sent us reports from government agencies and researchers about the history of immigrant workers in agriculture. Most notably, there was the Bracero program, which brought in temporary farm workers mostly from Mexico between 1942 and 1964, peaking at almost a half-million workers.

Braceros primarily farmed vegetables, fruits, cotton and sugar beets, and they were concentrated in seven states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan and Texas. By the 1960s, mechanization reduced the need for these workers for some crops.

We interviewed historians who said it is difficult to generalize about the agricultural workforce, because it differs by time period, location and type of farm.

Paul Conkin, a Vanderbilt history professor emeritus, said that Rubio's claim "is either completely wrong or misleading."

"Through most of our agricultural history, the workforce largely consisted of farm owners, family members, or one or two hired hands from the neighborhood," he said. "Only since World War II have migratory workers become a major component of farm labor."

Several of the historians we interviewed noted that in the South, farms relied on slave labor and later sharecroppers, and many of those people were born in the United States.

System in place?

As for the other part of Rubio's claim, the United States has a system to allow farmers to hire seasonal workers: the H-2A visa program. But it has been widely criticized as inadequate.

Farmers apply for certification from the Labor Department to ensure that U.S. workers aren't available. Employers then submit a petition to the Department of Homeland Security to bring in foreign workers. Foreign workers then apply for visas from the State Department.

Employers must meet a list of requirements, including providing workers with housing, transportation, and workers' compensation insurance.

The number of H-2A visas have soared from about 6,500 in 1992 to about 55,400 H-2A visas issued in 2011, based on preliminary data.

Despite that growth, the program is small relative to total farm employment. For example in 2007, (the most recent Census of Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture) there were about 2.6 million hired farm workers and about 50,800 H-2A visas granted.

"Critics of the H-2A program cite the low levels of participation as evidence of the program's inadequacy to meet the needs of U.S. agricultural employers," the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said. "Others, however, attribute the program's low utilization to the availability of unauthorized workers, who are willing to work for lower wages than legal workers."

Many farm groups and a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have complained that the process is too difficult and doesn't provide enough workers.

Our ruling

In fact-checking Rubio's comments, we found that he overgeneralized when he suggested that throughout American history, all types of farms needed foreign workers. Also, contrary to Rubio's claim, there actually is a system for growers to legally hire foreign workers. However, many farmers have complained that the visa program is inadequate, cumbersome and in dire need of a makeover. Overall, we rate his statement Mostly False.

This article has been edited for print. To read our full version go to

The statement

"Agriculture has always required a significant workforce from abroad, but we do not have a system through which growers and dairies can bring a workforce legally into the U.S."

Marco Rubio, in an op-ed for

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Mostly False
Some farms have required foreign workers in the past, but not all. Also, though the H-2A visa program is widely criticized as flawed, there is a system for farmers to hire foreign workers. We rate his claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact: Fact-checking Marco Rubio's immigration claims 02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Quiet college dropout turned bomber: Who was Salman Abedi?


    LONDON — He was quiet and withdrawn, a college dropout who liked soccer — and, some say, showed alarming signs of being radicalized years before he walked into a pop concert at Britain's Manchester Arena and detonated a powerful bomb, killing himself and 22 others.

    Salman Abedi was identified by British authorities as the man behind Monday’s attack.
  2. Soldiers launch attacks in besieged Philippine city


    MARAWI, Philippines — Backed by tanks and rocket-firing helicopters, Philippine troops launched "precision attacks" Thursday to clear extremists linked to the Islamic State group from a city that has been under siege since a raid that failed to capture one of Asia's most-wanted militants.

    Soldiers fire at enemy positions Thursday while trying to clear the city of Marawi, Philippines, of armed militants.
  3. Back to .500, Rays feel ready to roll (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Who wants to be mediocre? Middling? Average? Run-of-the-mill?

    Rays catcher Jesus Sucre tags out the Angels’ Mike Trout trying to score from second base after a perfect peg from rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. in the first inning.
  4. Seminole man accused of fracturing 8-month-old baby's leg


    Deputies arrested a Seminole man Thursday after he fractured an 8-month-old baby's bones, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Gary G. Gibeault of Seminole was arrested on a charge of aggravated child abuse.
  5. St. Petersburg's ballooning sewage debt could threaten credit rating (but there's a Hail Mary plan to avoid that)

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city needs a lot of money — $435 million over the next five years — most of it to fix its leaky sewer pipes and aging sewer plants.

    In September 2016, signs at St. Petersburg’s North Shore Park warned people to stay out of the water due to contamination from sewage released by the city’s overwhelmed sewer system. The City Council on Thursday learned that the very expensive fix for its sewage woes could hamper the city’s credit rating. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]