WOOSTER, Ohio — As farmers wait for a new farm bill, some also are waiting for what is expected to be the biggest immigration reform in decades.The Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill June 27 by a vote of 68-32, that essentially would put the nation’s 11 million immigrants in the nation illegally, on a path toward citizenship.
The Senate bill, called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” would also strengthen border security, reform the legal immigration system, modernize the guest worker program and implement a mandatory E-verify system.
The House, on the other hand, has mostly ignored the comprehensive bill and is in the process of passing new legislation piece by piece.
“It’s not going to be a comprehensive process, said Brian Worth, coalitions director for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, during a webinar hosted by United Fresh Produce Association July 23. “The bigger you make something, the more things wrong people can find with it.”Piecemeal. Worth said reform will most likely come in “piecemeal” form.
So far, the House Judiciary Committee has approved a high-skilled immigration visa program, expanded E-verify nationwide, created a new agriculture guest worker program, and improved interior enforcement of immigration.
The House is expected to break for its August recess before any major action on immigration. Worth said members intend to use the recess to get better acquainted with the immigration concerns of their constituents, before considering further legislation in the fall.
One thing most agree on, he said, is something needs done.
“It’s hard for members to disagree with the reality that if you have at least 11 million people here illegally — in violation of the law that we know of — something is wrong with the system,” he said.
The produce industry, which relies on immigrants for most of its labor needs, sees this as its top priority.
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association, called it “one of the most important, if not the most important issue confronting our industry at this point and time.”
Guenther said the Senate vote, combined with what the House is considering, signals a “real window of opportunity (for) the remainder of this year.”
Farmers simply need the immigrant labor force, which today makes up more than 70 percent of farm workers in the United States.
“Today, labor is the most unstable component of our business operations in several states,” said Charles Wingard, director of operations for the multi-state farm Walter P. Rawl & Sons in Pelion, S.C.Reform needed.
Wingard said state law, as it stands, is overly cumbersome and sometimes contradicts federal law. He asks producers to continue educating their lawmakers about why reform is needed, and invite them to the farm if possible.
“We’re going to tell our story,” he said. “We’re going to tell them that the current immigration system is broken, it’s unreliable, it’s burdensome and it’s not conducive to running a business in the 21st century.”
Wingard said the Senate bill is “fair, tough and reasonable,” traits he’d like to see in the House bills.