Obama
Obama

President Obama apparently has decided to table plans for executive action on immigration until after the November election.

When he does act, he may give long-term undocumented workers in the U.S. a way to stay on their jobs without fear of deportation.

In remarks at a press conference Sept. 5, Obama said he wants to give immigrants “some path so that they can start paying taxes and pay a fine and learn English be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.”

However, he did not issue a timetable when he would act, and most Washington observers expect him to act after the mid-term elections.

“Nobody knows if he is going to go big or small,” said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers. Gasperini said some believe President Obama will issue an executive order that will provide deferred enforcement action on undocumented workers in the U.S. who have been in the country longer than 10 years

Gasperini said he believes more than half of the undocumented workers in agriculture have been in the U.S. longer than 10 years.

While growers want their workers to have proper authorization, he said there is an also a fear that those workers could make the move to year-round industry and leave agriculture if they had legal papers.

“We could lose a big percentage of our workers very quickly,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gasperini said it is uncertain if Obama, through executive action, could fundamentally change the H-2A guest worker program in a way that would benefit growers, Gasperini said. Any change Obama proposes to the program could make it more difficult for growers, he said.

When President Obama does act, agriculture advocates have been asking the Obama administration to do no harm to agriculture, said Kristi Boswell, director of Congressional relations for the Washington, D.C.–based American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Agriculture has a lot of instability so we’ve asked the President to look at the enforcement that they are conducting in agriculture, whether it is Department of Labor I-9 audits, whether it is ICE raids,” she said. “Don’t make things worse for us.”

Any executive actions President Obama undertakes will likely be short term in nature and possibly subject to a legal challenge, so Boswell said executive actions may not provide long-term solutions.

“Politically we see the best alternative going forward as being legislative,” he said.

The road ahead for that task looks difficult, Gasperini said. If Republicans win both houses of Congress, Gasperini said it will be hard for Republicans to pass an immigration reform bill that President Obama will sign next year.