Time Running Out for Immigration Bill

Time Running Out for Immigration Bill

November 6, 2013

Republicans Must Compromise

On Immigration Bill

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

and Laurie Greene, Associate Editor

While it’s true that the majority of workers on California farms do not have legal status. And while there is a limited number of legal ag worker programs, the primary one being H2-A which is a stymied, and stifled program that only provides about four percent of the legal workforce, there is a critical need to get an Immigration Billed signed by the President.

Craig Regelbrugge
“We only have a few more weeks to get something done, but I believe it will happen,” said Craig Regelbrugge, Co-chair of Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, speaking at the recent 32nd Annual Agribusiness Management Conference in Fresno.

‘There is more enforcement and much of that is in the form of I-9 audits, where government officials come in and audits a farmer’s paperwork, which leads to the firing of a large number of very experience workers,” said Regelbrugge. “These workers are generally not deported, but instead move on to rebuild their lives doing something else.”

“All this is leading to uncertainty and labor shortages with many crops such as pears, strawberries not getting completely harvested this year,” Regelbrugge.  “We are also seeing lost opportunities and offshoring of production to foreign countries that have the labor and resources to produce crops and then export it to us.  This all leads to economic and job loss and the ripple effect across the ag sector of the economy,” he noted.

“There is still time in the remaining few weeks for the house to work on a compromise,” he said. “Republicans should move bills that support their fundamental principals like market oriented, limited Government, individual initiative such as what immigration reform is all about,” noted Regelbrugge.

Central Valley Congressmen David Valadon and Jeff Denham deserve credit in their support of immigration reform. We need Devin Nunes to support the bill along with the third ranking Kevin McCarthy with us as well.

A 21st Century America requires a 21st Century Immigration system. Doing nothing is not an option. The bottom line is that the house must act this fall.

Also speaking at the conference was Monte Lake, a distinguished lawyer from the valley, specializing in agricultural employment, immigration and regulatory law.

Monte Lake
 “Our challenge over the years has been to unify agriculture,” said Lake. “We have made progress by uniting all the players who have been impacted to develop a program that works.”

“We need reform,” Lake continued. “We have a shortage of labor, not just a projected shortage, and it is a national problem.

Lake believes national immigration reform affects the Central Valley more than elsewhere. “Locally, many workers are undocumented and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is in the Valley. Packers are now targeted and directed to fire 80% of their workforce. This often devastatingly disrupts harvest time. Before long, electronic verification of employment documents will be mandated.”

“The H2A program is the only guest worker program for agriculture and it does not work; only 4% of the workforce in California come through it,” said Lake. “H2A must have been designed by Soviet bureaucracy—it is cumbersome, unworkable and untimely for perishable commodities. The average bureaucratic delay is 22 days, and wage rates are not market-based.”

 “The way to look at your future is you must have a Washington-perspective of what is doable,” Lake suggested. “A program that works must have basic standards demanded by the American public, including an acceptable basic wage, housing, and reasonable hours—a balance of worker and grower benefits.”

“But, here’s the challenge: it is not the world we want, it is the world we can achieve politically.”

The Senate has passed legislation for comprehensive agriculture immigration reform—theblue card program for the undocumented. Any undocumented who has worked in agriculture for 2 years, with a few caveats, can qualify for legal status. It is controversial because it touches on amnesty.

The intent is keep these individuals because we want to transition to an essential guest worker program, so we provide an incentive for undocumented farm workers to remain in agriculture. Visa programs and organized labor are against this.

The Senate supports factors such as administrative-free, work for anybody at will, administered by Department of Agriculture and not Department of Labor, with no cap on workers, careful consideration of wages for profitability, predictability and inflation.

Likewise, the House has drafted legislation that improves H2A but lacks structural changes. Undocumented workers can work for a 2-year period, but they must go home afterwards. A mass departure of farmworkers for an unspecified time concerns agricultural employers.

“Plus, mechanization has its limitations, and imports will increase,” Lake predicted.

Lake described a big advertisement by the agricultural industry this week in POLITICO, a widely read publication in Washington DC that shows an aircraft carrier sailing from American shores. On the deck is every type of agriculture, the message being that we are exporting our agricultural products overseas and must be able to compete internationally.

“We’ve go to solve this problem. If we fail, we will continue to have ICE and the H2A program,” warned Lake.

Lake summed up, “You have a good delegation in the Valley from both parties that recognizes the economic reality necessitating a viable immigration system. We’re talking about components: land, water, and labor.”

Lake emphasized, “You have to support and encourage the delegation; keep them active. Urge all of your colleagues in the industry to do the same. Make a lot of noise in Washington, DC because it impacts you. Keep up the pressure. Keep up the good work.”

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