No more picking mushrooms for Lorenzo Avalos - he's got his papers. And he's found that the law extending amnesty to illegal aliens can mean better pay.
After applying for amnesty and obtaining legal work papers, Avalos quit his $4.50-an-hour job picking mushrooms to work at a meat packing company, where he earns $6.50 an hour. His new job also provides him with health benefits for the first time."They treat me better. They pay me better. There's more opportunity," Avalos said through an interpreter at his apartment here.
But for many farmers, the competition from other industries and the likely need to pay higher wages to former illegal aliens is worrisome. They also face fines of up to $10,000 per worker if they continue to employ illegal aliens.
"It could be very serious for us," said Daniel Boyer, president of the Pennsylvania State Horticultural Association and owner of Amick Orchards in Johnstown, about 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.
A little more than 17,000 migrants go to Pennsylvania each year for farm work, and about 32,000 others living in the state do seasonal labor in the fields, according to Art Read, general counsel for Friends of Farmworkers, a non-profit legal services organization.
Most of those farm workers were illegal aliens and have been paid at or slightly above the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour, Read said.
The immigration act of 1986 allowed illegal alien farm workers to apply for amnesty and work permits if they could prove they harvested perishable crops for at least 90 days between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986.
Up to 1.2 million workers nationwide applied by last Wednesday's deadline, including 5,000 to 6,000 in Pennsylvania, according to Jesse Peterson, chief legalization officer at the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in nearby Lima.
Aliens could have applied for amnesty in other states. Also, in a separate phase of the amnesty program that ended in May, the INS granted temporary residency to about 1.7 million illegals who said they could prove continuous residency in the United States since 1982.
Farmers have relied on illegal aliens to pick apples and peaches in south-central Pennsylvania, tomatoes and other vegetables in the northeast and grapes in the northwest.