Immigration reform crosses another hurdle

May 24, 2013

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), the United Farm Workers, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and Western Growers applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving S. 744, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill, out of committee on a strong bi-partisan vote of 13-5.

“The legislation includes agricultural provisions that reflect the agreement that the AWC and the United Farm Workers union reached earlier this spring. These provisions are vital to ensuring that America’s farmers and ranchers can find the workers they need to pick crops, prune trees or care for animals,” the group said in a statement.

“Agriculture stands united in support of the agriculture provisions contained in the Senate bill, and we look forward to seeing the process advance to the Senate floor after the Memorial Day recess.”

The immigration reform bill approved by the committee establishes a new Blue Card and also creates new agricultural visa programs.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who led a group of senators in writing the farm worker provisions in the legislation, noted in a news release that the bill includes the provisions she and Marco Rubio, R-FL, Michael Bennet, D-CO, and Orrin Hatch, R-UT, wrote.

“The bill establishes a new Blue Card program for legal status and a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented farm workers and creates two new agricultural visa programs to ensure farmers can legally hire future workers when local workers are unavailable,” Feinstein said.

The proposal includes both an earned adjustment in status for current agricultural employees who lack legal status and a program to ensure an adequate farm workforce in the future, AWC said. Unlike current programs such as H-2A, AWC added, “This agreement would mean that all types of producers—including both those with seasonal labor needs and ones with year-round labor needs— have access to the workforce they need to remain productive and competitive.”

According to Bob Stallman, president, AFBF, this is shaping up to potentially be a banner year for public policy advances related to agriculture.

“The time is long overdue for our nation to have a comprehensive agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and across all regions of our nation. The Senate Judiciary Committee [May 21] passed a balanced immigration reform bill [last week] that included a fair and workable farm labor provision that sets the stage for Senate action beginning next month,” he said in a statement.

“We believe this bill will help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor but also will provide an increased level of surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders. We know that one of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. If we do not have to waste resources locking up lettuce harvesters, we can focus on keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country,” Stallman added.

But not everyone is on board with the Senate Gang of Eight immigration plan. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte criticized the bill last Wednesday, claiming it will not curb the illegal immigration problem in the U.S.

“The drafters seek an end to the problem of illegal immigration for once and for all,” Goodlatte said during a committee hearing on the Senate bill. “While this is a laudable and necessary goal, their bill falls far short of achieving it.”

Goodlatte compared the Senate bill to the 1986 immigration law, saying lawmakers are now “haunted by the legacy” of the failure of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor