Senate bill 744 — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act — has grower-friendly provisions to legalize the existing farm labor workforce and create a new agricultural guest worker program. Immigration reform faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives, where House Speaker John Boehnor, R-Ohio, said lawmakers will create a different version.
Tom Nassif, president of the Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, said he was grateful for the work of the Senate passing the legislation June 27, and it could make a huge difference for domestic fruit and vegetable production.
“If this bill or something very close to it passes in the House so that we are able to conference the two bills, the result should rejuvenate agricultural production in the United States,” he said.
Nassif said the agricultural labor provisions in the legislation have the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. and reverse the trend of U.S. fruit and vegetable production moving to other countries.
Thanking the Senate for its vote, Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh Produce Association, said the bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs and help the economy.
Nassif said it is “absolutely essential” that the House moves forward with their work on immigration reform.
“Some people are saying the House may not get to it before the August recess, but I think conventional wisdom says that if it isn’t done by then, it probably won’t happen,” Nassif said.
A statement from the Agricultural Workforce Coalition praised the Senate, particularly senators instrumental in helping reach an agreement between grower and labor interests to craft the agricultural provisions. The group also said it looks forward to working with the House of Representatives to advance immigration reform.
“We encourage House members to ensure that any legislation contains meaningful reform to meet agriculture’s current and future labor needs,” the statement said.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C., said the Senate’s legislation includes a “fair and workable” farm labor provision for U.S. agriculture.
“A comprehensive agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and across all regions of our nation is long overdue,” according to a statement from the Farm Bureau.