As California Grape & Tree Fruit League representatives came back to Fresno from the Washington Public Policy Conference to renew their push for immigration reform, United Farm Workers was turning up the volume on the issue.
Despite common goals, the approaches showed differences in strategy.
The Washington conference, hosted by United Fresh Produce Association, was Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. United Farm Workers rallied in Fresno Oct. 4 as the union and other groups began a campaign to collect more than 10,000 letters urging House majority whip Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican, to back agricultural provisions in the Senate immigration bill that include a path to citizenship.
McCarthy’s importance for the issue has been widely noted. During a meeting with Salinas, Calif., grower-shippers, for example, United Fresh president Tom Stenzel urged his members to contact the congressman.
That’s a constituency McCarthy is more likely to work with, California Grape & Tree Fruit League president Barry Bedwell said.
“The UFW is very much focused on getting immigration reform,” Bedwell said. “Working with them on that is something we’ve done. But we all have our contacts and constituents. It’s important that they work with the individuals and elected officials that they’re going to be more productive with, and it’s important for us to work with the people we’re going to be more productive with. That’s political reality.”
“Our members should be the ones writing letters to McCarthy,” Bedwell said. “He understands agriculture. It’s going to be more productive in his case to hear from the right side of the spectrum as opposed to the left.”
Like United Fresh, the league is past the point of being selective about what shape House legislation takes.
“Immigration reform is at the top of our list,” Bedwell said. “What we need between now and the end of November is for the House to produce a bill or bills that could be conferenced with the Senate version.
“Now, nobody is saying the House has to take up the Senate bill. We support that bill, but it’s more important to have a vehicle to get to conference committee so that a compromise bill can be produced and signed by the president.”
If not, the trade group worries the matter will get swept under the rug.
“We’re afraid that if it doesn’t happen and we get into an election year, it’s going to be years before we have an opportunity like this again,” Bedwell said. “All that’s gone on with Syria, the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, are clearly distractions from trying to focus on this important issue.”