Immigration reform, border security benefits the beef industry

Farm Forum

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) members have made immigration reform one of the organization’s key issues for my term as president, so I have been pleased to see our elected officials also take it up as a priority. Although we are a long way from final legislation, we are optimistic about what we have seen so far from both the House and Senate. As you know, agriculture relies on a viable year-round workforce for our success. We depend on these workers and so a workable, common-sense, guest worker program is vitally important to our future.

When I was growing up, my father and a lot of neighbors depended on migrant laborers. We would get together as a community to feed and house them and in return the laborers would come and work thinning beets, weeding beans and hauling hay. They were happy to do the job and have the work and when they were done, they went home. We had a viable immigration program and it worked for years. Today we’re down to just a single program for immigrant workers, the H-2A visa program, and quite frankly it’s broken. There are so many hoops and hurdles and restrictions that it just doesn’t work for agriculture or the workers we depend on anymore.

While some in agriculture depend on seasonal guest workers to help with harvest and other short term needs, there are many NCBA members who need year-round help and need it for multiple years. Feedyards, dairies, packing plants and others can’t afford to continuously train new employees. We need laborers who can stay for perhaps three or five years at a stretch before they return home for their touchback to spend time with their families. I truly believe that those laborers want that too. We need stability in our workforce and a labor pool that is here legally so they can be identified and traced and so they can take part in our economy by paying taxes.

Border security is one of the cornerstones of NCBA’s policy on immigration reform and it must be a part of any solution from Congress. Our farmers and ranchers near the border deserve to be safe on their property and secure inside this country. I believe that an effective and workable immigration program that will allow workers to come here and help provide for their families back home will help cut the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the border. In turn, we’ll be more effective at halting the flow of people crossing illegally.

Both the House and Senate have unveiled their plans to address the needs of agriculture, both in their own way. The Senate has taken up a comprehensive immigration bill with a border security component. This proposal from the “Gang of Eight” would look to secure the border and provide a non-seasonal guest worker program. In the House, the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2013 has been introduced. The House guestworker act would replace the impractical H-2A program with the H-2C program, which would be administered by USDA, who understands the needs of agriculture. While it is important to remember that these are only the first steps toward a workable solution and they will be followed up with hearings and mark-ups over the months to come, we believe these are positive steps forward toward sensible immigration reform.

We’re supporting and expecting Congress to reform immigration programs to work for agriculture. What we want is a workable program that provides the stability and flexibility we need as an industry to ensure immigrant laborers are available when they are needed. Immigrant labor has been and will continue to be a vital part of our nation’s food security and I would urge each of you to call your elected officials in Washington, D.C., and explain why we need immigration reform to address the needs of year-round workers now.