Fresh produce and agricultural leaders praised the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 13 to 5 vote in favor of immigration reform legislation and promised heavy lobbying efforts to help secure the bill’s approval in the full Senate.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, was approved by the committee May 21. More than 200 amendments were considered before the committee’s vote on the bill.
Agricultural provisions survived intact, said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for Washington, D.C.-based American Nursery & Landscape Association.
“We all feel good about the vote,” he said.
Regelbrugge said the most believe the immigration reform legislation will be considered by the full Senate the week of June 10, giving senators three weeks before the July 4 recess.
Support by senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was significant, Regelbrugge said. Hatch helped negotiate the agricultural provisions of the bill, but said that didn’t guarantee his support.
The bill establishes a new Blue Card program for legal status and a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented farm workers. It creates two agricultural visa programs to ensure growers can legally hire non-U.S. residents when local labor is unavailable, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release.
“We are pleased the Senate judiciary has moved forward with committee passage of the bill,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in an e-mail. “The strong bipartisan vote out of the committee should send a positive signal to the rest of the Senate and their colleagues in the House that the time has come to address this important policy issue that has lingered on much too long in the eyes of many people in the produce industry.”
The Senate legislation includes a “fair and workable” farm labor provision, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C.. said in a statement.
“We believe this bill will help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor but also will provide an increased level of surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders,” Stallman said.
He said creating a way for farm workers to enter the country can help improve border security.
“If we do not have to waste resources locking up lettuce harvesters, we can focus on keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country,” according to Stallman’s statement.