Amid border crisis, farm groups call for immigration reform

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SALEM, Ohio — As the nation continues to battle the humanitarian crisis along its southern border, a diverse group of farmers and business leaders continues to plead for reform that would grant U.S. farmers easier access to immigrant labor.

On July 9, a national group that included Ohio farmers and business leaders, took part in the National Day of Action for Immigration Reform — an effort to remind Washington lawmakers and the media about the importance of immigrant labor at U.S. farms.

The battle in Washington has been tense in recent weeks — the president threatening executive action over the House’s inaction, and House Speaker John Boehner threatening to sue the president, for overstepping presidential powers.

Strong consensus

However, there is a strong consensus about what should be done, according to organizers with National Day of Action, who released an opinion poll showing widespread support for reform.

According to the poll, sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, 81 percent of voters want Congress to act this year, with more than half calling it “very important” they act this year.

The poll also found that by a 12 to 1 ratio, voters believe the system is in need of fixing versus those who think the system is functioning the way it should.

Action Day spokesman Tyler Glick said the poll shows a “strong consensus support for reform,” and that the nation needs a “permanent and meaningful fix to the issue.”

Checking documents

Bill Dodd, who operates Dodd’s Hillcrest Orchards in Amherst, Ohio, said farm owners like himself rely on immigrant labor to stay in business. They check their workers’ documents the best they can, but “we know in the back of our mind that many of our workers are not documented.”

Dodd and other farmers say they want to see immigrants be granted the documentation to work here legally.

“Ideally we would like to have comprehensive immigration passed,” he said. “(But) we’re open to anything that moves the ball forward.”

Related: Farmers and immigrants share stories

Farmers have long complained that the current guest worker programs are too cumbersome and inefficient. Under the H-2A visa program, it can take a month or more for a farmer to receive the workers he requests.

Completely unworkable

Bob Lyons, who owns Sunleaf Nursery in Madison, Ohio, called the H-2A program “almost completely unworkable.”

One of his concerns is the recent growth in the economy, which is creating new demand for labor and food production.

Farm workers transporting produce on the back of a truck.

Farm workers transporting produce on the back of a truck.

“We’ve been working on this issue for a long, long time,” he said. “We’re convinced that we’ve got to do something.”

Steve Hirsch, president of Ohio Farm Bureau, said “domestic workers are unwilling” to do the work immigrants will do.

Compensation varies among farms, but is mandated to be high enough that it does not adversely effect the wages of U.S. Citizens. Many are paid above minimum wage, and also earn production incentives.

Without a dependable workforce, “our farms and ranches less competitive,” Hirsch said.

Growing issue

Immigration reform has been a priority issue for farmers for many years — and becomes as bigger issue as world population and demand for food grow. Today, about 11 million undocumented people are said to be living in the United States.

In June of 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that provided a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country, while strengthening the border and providing new worker visa programs for immigrants wanting to work on farms.

But the comprehensive approach was mostly ignored by the U.S. House, which instead opted for a piecemeal approach, pledging to resolve the issues one at a time.

In January of 2014, it appeared the House might be poised for a big year on immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released his “principles on immigration reform,” but seemed to take a step backward about a week later, when he announced the House would most likely not vote on reform this year.

Participants

The National Day of Action included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Partnership for a New American Economy, American Farm Bureau Federation, Business Roundtable, AmericanHort, Western Growers, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Members held events in Washington, D.C. and in more than 60 congressional districts across 25 states.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

3 Comments

  1. Joyce I. says:

    The immigration of persons from other countries in the 1900′ s is what gave America their prosperity since many worked in steel mills, coal mines and farming as well as factories and asked for nothing in return except a life that was better than communist rulers. They were willing to work hard and often in poor conditions until the labor union movement made it better. I believe much is the case today. How can you say “We want you, but not you and you”?

  2. FED-UP & POd FARMER says:

    It MUST be noted that MANY farmers-including myself-are ADAMANTLY AGAINST immigration reform that makes it easier to allow people to immigrate into this country-ESPECIALLY allowing illegal immigrants !!! These people are ALREADY criminals by being here illegally..this country has enough trashy criminals around that are here legally and/or are already citizens-we do NOT need any more , and it is obvious that they do NOT respect laws being here illegally. People need to remember what the legal immigrants were forced to do and undergo years ago when they arrived at Ellis Island-anyone who was not healthy or was not deemed acceptable by immigration personnel were turned back-and the ones who were admitted were NOT given welfare or ANY “freebies”…NOR did they expect ANY help from the government-There is NO comparison between the immigrants who came around the turn of the century and the ones attempting to enter this country now-these “modern” ones expect the government to assist them and our government to cater to their heritage and languages. I will be the first to say that there IS a shortage of willing help/employees for some fields-farm work included…but-if welfare was discontinued and the welfare people be MADE to work, the numbers would be high enough that there would be no need for immigration labor…

  3. William House says:

    Not paying workers a Living Wage, Overtime, and respecting their human rights does no one any good.

    A consumer economy is based on consumers with money.

    Equal Rights AND Equal Pay.

    Stop abusing Immigrants!

    AMNESTY NOW!

    regulate corporate exploitation!

    END bigoted culture war violence!

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