Ag stakeholders reach crucial deal on immigration reform

Farm Forum

A bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight” seems to have finally figured out how to fix our country’s broken immigration system and provide a workable system for workers to legally perform important tasks on farms and ranches year round.

“Agricultural immigration issues are extraordinarily complicated,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah who worked on the farm worker provisions. “That farmers and workers have come together to back this consensus proposal is an achievement that only weeks ago didn’t seem possible.”

The bill was largely crafted by four Democratic senators: Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida. But Hatch and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also helped broker the deal between agricultural employers and farm workers.

A similar effort to craft immigration reform is just beginning in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The agreement places a heavy emphasis on border security and provides billions in additional funds to catch people coming over our borders illegally. The bill sets a goal of stopping 90 percent of illegal crossings along the southern border with Mexico. At the same time, the package would allow legal entry for both low- and high-skilled labor for American businesses, including farm workers.

Farm worker provisions

The new farm worker program would replace the current H-2A program and provide a long-term path to legal status for undocumented workers. It would set a cap of 112,000 3-year visas each year and set a formula by which wages for the workers would increase each year with a cap and a floor.

“This agreement means that Colorado growers and producers won’t have to watch their crops rot in the ground or wither on the vines while also providing important protections for workers,” Bennet explained.

Many in the agriculture sector were elated over this latest announcement of a farm worker agreement.

“The framework and objectives of this agreement represent a positive step toward providing America’s dairy farmers access to a legal workforce now and in the future,” noted Jerry Kozak, CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

“It’s a complete agreement,” Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, told Agri-Pulse. “It was intense, lengthy discussions with union reps.”

As part of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), Nassif said his group ment,” Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, told Agri-Pulse.