Immigration reform gaining Republicans' support

Nov 1, 2013

Last Wednesday, Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) joined two other Republicans in his support of H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, legislation aimed at reforming the United States immigration system.

Introduced by Congressman Joe Garcia (D-FL), Democrats are hoping to reach an agreement on the immigration debate by the end of the year.

Valadao’s support followed House Republicans, Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), both of whom said they would support the bill as cosponsors.

“I have been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue of immigration reform. Recently, I have focused my efforts on joining with like-minded Republicans in organizing and demonstrating to Republican leadership broad support within the party to address immigration reform in the House by the end of the year,” stated Congressman Valadao in a press release. “By supporting H.R. 15, I am strengthening my message: Addressing immigration reform in the House cannot wait. I am serious about making real progress and will remain committed to doing whatever it takes to repair our broken immigration system.”

“I appreciate Congressman Valadao’s willingness to work with both sides of the aisle on comprehensive immigration reform,” Congressman Garcia stated. “With his support and help, I look forward to strengthening our nation’s immigration system.”

In addition to a few Republican Congress members joining in on the immigration reform support, producers are also visiting D.C. to voice their thoughts.

Washington cherry and apple grower Jon Wyss was one of dozens of farmers, dairymen and ranchers in Washington, D.C., last week in hope of convincing the House to take action.

For Wyss and other farmers across the country, finding workers to care for and harvest their crops or help care for their animals is a constant struggle.

“We’re 30 miles from the Canadian border, so it’s a long haul to get labor up here,” Wyss said. With the labor situation growing more dire over the past few years, many farmers in Wyss’ Okanogan County gave the current federal ag labor program, H-2A, a try, but found little relief.

“After the first six months, they can’t deal with the bureaucracy of it, so they drop out and work with a hope and a prayer,” Wyss said.

Doug Leman, executive director of the Indiana Dairy Producers, is also in the nation’s capital this week. As a dairyman, Leman couldn’t participate in the H-2A program. Instead, he tried again and again to hire locals to work at his dairy.

“We were constantly hiring and training, hiring and training,” said Leman, who sold his dairy in 2010. That didn’t work for anyone, so Leman moved to migrant workers, who he found reliable and skilled.

With Senate passage in June of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) and the House’s early efforts on immigration reform, Wyss said in a Farm Bureau press release that he’s more optimistic than ever about getting a bill on the president’s desk.

The Senate legislation is considered by farmers and ranchers to be a balanced immigration reform package that includes fair and workable farm labor provisions, according to Farm Bureau’s press release. But the House, they added, is dealing with the various aspects of immigration reform, such as labor and border security, in a series of bills.

“We need to recognize the House’s step-by-step approach and work with it,” Wyss said. “Without a House bill, we can’t get to conference.”

No matter how it’s done, Wyss said the ag labor provisions of any reform bill should tackle three key areas: providing an adequate labor supply; offering at-will and contract options for farm workers; establishing a stable wage rate; and addressing undocumented migrant workers.

Leman, too, focused on the need for Congress to do something about the workers who are here now. He also said lawmakers should move toward allowing migrant workers to stay in the country for an extended period of time, after which they could return to their home countries.

To a large extent, the Senate legislation meets Wyss’ and Leman’s criteria. The Farm Bureau-supported bill includes a Blue Card program for current experienced farm workers and a new agricultural visa program to meet future labor needs.

According to the Farm Bureau, these provisions are intended to ensure producers can keep their experienced, but undocumented workers and will replace the current H-2A guest worker program with a program that offers more flexibility. The measure also provides increased surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor