A new study released by the White House has placed a state-by-state dollar value to agriculture if comprehensive immigration is passed. The report also predicts dire losses to each state if the reform effort founders.
According to the economic analysis by Regional Economic Models Inc., an expanded H-2A visa program — such as the one described in the Senate comprehensive immigration bill — would add about $2 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014 and $9.79 billion by 2045.
But economists cited in the study said a 40% drop in the size of an unauthorized labor force would result in a 2% to 5.4% decrease in output of fruits, vegetables and nursery products over a 15-year period.
Saying “it is time to fix this broken system,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at a July 29 teleconference with reporters about the White House report. He reviewed the importance of immigration reform to specific states that rely on undocumented workers.
“A failure to have comprehensive immigration reform could cost California agriculture somewhere between $1.7 billion and $3.1 billion annually,” he said in the teleconference.
In contrast, Vilsack said that passing comprehensive immigration reform could add about 9,500 jobs in California.
Record export earnings of near $136 billion this year have led to a historical high in overall farm income, according to the report. However, the report said agriculture’s dependence on unauthorized foreign workers puts the future at risk, since there are not enough U.S. workers to fill farm labor needs.
There were about 1.1 million fulltime farm workers in the U.S. in 2012. Nearly three-quarter of newly hired workers employed in crop agriculture lack legal status, according to the report, but that rises to 97% without work authorization in fruit production and 90% in vegetable production, according to the study.
“By providing a path to earned citizenship for currently unauthorized farm workers, the bipartisan Senate bill gives unauthorized workers and their families the security they need to invest in their own skills and education and pursue higher-paying employment,” according to a summary of the report.
Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said the White House is pushing the Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform.
“We still believe in the framework that the (Senate) bill provides to allow for a legal workforce that would benefit the rural communities of the United states,” Gilmer said July 29.
However, Gilmer said the House of Representatives appears to be taking a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.
“We need to work with lawmakers in both chambers to get this to conference and get a bill (to) the president,” Gilmer said.
Given loud opposition in some quarters, Gilmer said House lawmakers need to hear from their constituents during the August recess on the importance of immigration reform.
”We need to step up and really make sure our voice is heard amidst all the folks who would not like to see us advance immigration reform in this Congress,” he said.
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