18 Jan 2013 - We Need Immigration Reform, NOW!

I spent two days at the American Farm Bureau convention in Nashville last week and yes, in the general convention sessions and in the hallway conversations there indeed was a lot of talk about the drought of 2012 and whether or not we are in for a second year of drought with the lack of snowfall, and of course, concern about the failure of Congress to pass a farm bill last year.

Another topic of those conversations dealt with the challenge of getting farm labor, and again, the failure of Congress and President Obama to deliver on their four-year-old promise to reform immigration policy across the board with emphasis on simplifying the process for farmers and ranchers to acquire migrant workers. Agriculture hires 1-½ million temporary or full-time workers every year and it is a perennial problem to find workers in a timely fashion to do the back-breaking labor of harvesting fruits and vegetables or the daily care of livestock. When produce is ready to harvest, any delay in finding workers means the crops rot in the fields.

After lengthy discussion in the voting delegate session, the American Farm Bureau Federation called on the President and Congress to act on meaningful immigration reform in this session and they called for adoption of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition’s two -part Worker Program.

That program would allow 11-month visas for “at will” laborers who move from farm-to- farm during harvest.

And it would allow 12-month visas for workers with a contract with a producer. In both cases, visas could be renewed.

For undocumented workers, the program would allow them to gain “permanent legal status and the right to work in whatever industry they choose” after working “for a number of days annually in agriculture for several years”.

We have been promised immigration reform for over a decade; it hasn’t happened. And I’m tired of hearing opponents of migrant labor constantly telling me that migrant workers take jobs from American workers. That simply is not the case because U.S. workers will not spend long days in the field bending over to harvest lettuce or strawberries. Ask any American farmer who has tried to hire domestic workers and that is the response you’ll get.

So, if we want to continue to enjoy U.S. grown fresh fruits and vegetables, we need to keep pressure on Congress and the White House to make immigration reform happen this year. If we don’t, our growers could move their production south of the border into Mexico where they can get the workers they need in a timely fashion.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.