August 1, 2013

July 31, 2013
Immigration Reform Update
Yesterday, the White House released a report, Fixing Our Broken Immigration System: The Economic Benefits to Agriculture and Rural Communities, detailing the important benefits provided by the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill for the domestic agriculture sector, its workforce, and rural American communities.
According to the report, U.S. agriculture has grown in recent years, with farm income and agriculture exports reaching historic highs. At year’s end, net farm income is predicted to be $128.2 billion, the highest level since 1973 (adjusting for inflation). Much of this growth is due to the increased demand for and value of American agricultural exports. U.S. agricultural export value is projected to reach $135.8 billion in FY 2013, which would also establish a new record. 

Immigration reform appears to be necessary to keep farms operations from moving abroad due to the labor shortage. The biggest effect is in California with its annual $34 billion produce industry, which is harvested mostly by illegal immigrant workers. Without a labor supply of migrant farm workers, the state could lose between $1.7 billion and $3.1 billion a year in lost farm income. The report said 74 percent of the state’s farm labor force is non-citizen, and probably most of those are undocumented.

Thus, the current agriculture industry is hampered by a broken immigration system that fails to provide a predictable and stable workforce. U.S. agriculture, among all economic sectors, is particularly dependent on foreign-born workers. Seventy-four percent of California's agricultural workers are non-citizens, the highest in any state, and a majority of them are undocumented workers, according to the White House report.

Agricultural producers report difficulty in locating qualified, available, authorized workers—both foreign and domestic—as one reason for the high rate of undocumented labor. Moreover, there continue to be insufficient U.S. workers to fill labor needs; 71 percent of crop workers surveyed between 2007 and 2009 were foreign born. By providing a path to earned citizenship for currently unauthorized farmworkers, the Senate bill gives these workers and their families the security needed to further their skills and education and pursue higher-paying employment. 

The Senate passed historic legislation in June 2013 to strengthen border security while providing an earned path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers who are vital to our nation’s agriculture industry, and a new temporary worker program negotiated by major grower associations and farmworker groups. If enacted, the Senate bill is estimated to allow 1.5 million agricultural workers and their dependents to come to the U.S.

Strength in agricultural production supports other parts of the economy, particularly in rural communities, which should see a boost in farm output. An economic analysis by the Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) reported that an expanded H-2A visa program would raise GDP by approximately $2 billion in 2014 and $9.79 billion in 2045. With declining native-born rural populations, the strength and continuity of rural America is contingent on commonsense immigration reform that improves job opportunities, provides local governments with tools for success, and increases economic growth.

With so much at stake, the agricultural community awaits the House to address immigration reform. We, in California have so much to gain, and very much to lose, depending on the outcome.

As follow-up, the American Farm Bureau Federation and more than 400 leading U.S. businesses and advocacy organizations called on the House to enact immigration reform legislation. The letter, sent today, was signed by a broad cross section of industries that includes agriculture, housing, retail, tourism, hospitality, technology, engineering, manufacturing, finance, venture capital, consumer electronics and others with a combined presence in every state in the United States.

“We deal with an immigration system that is now in its third decade and completely incapable of being responsive to an ever-changing national economy and hypercompetitive global marketplace. Today, the problems with our immigration system have grown and multiplied to become an emerging threat to the current and future productivity, ingenuity and competitiveness of key sectors of our economy, including agriculture, housing, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, tourism, engineering and technology.”

 “Failure to act is not an option. We can’t afford to be content and watch a generation-old immigration system work more and more against our overall national interest. Instead, we urge Congress to remain mindful of the clear benefits to our economy if we succeed, and work together and with us to achieve real, pro-growth immigration reform.”