First, let’s commend industry leaders, both from associations and volunteer leaders, for the hundreds of hours of work they’ve put in on immigration reform.
It’s a vital issue in agriculture, and particularly the produce industry, so it’s an issue for which it’s worth finding solutions.
The work that the Agricultural Workforce Coalition and farm worker representatives have done has been important and shows cooperation.
What follows is not a criticism of what they’ve done or how they’ve gone about it.
The fresh produce industry generally agrees growers rely on immigrant labor — many times undocumented — and it’s not a good long-term strategy. But there are just too many factors standing in the way of meaningful reform right now.
At a May 15 immigration workshop at United Fresh 2013, a few of these leaders gave us an update on where immigration reform sits in Congress.
In mid-May, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on Senate bill 744, called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” As we said in a Packer editorial a month ago, the Senate bill is only the first of many steps that will become harder.
At the workshop, speakers identified that the biggest obstacle for immigration and farm labor reform this year will likely be matching up legislation that passes the Senate with a similar bill in the House.
Barry Bedwell, chairman of the United Fresh government relations council and president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League, said the coalition is pushing the wording and agreements from the Senate bill to members of the House of Representatives.
That’s a good goal, but there’s an obvious problem. Many Republican House members oppose any immigration bill that hints at amnesty for illegal immigrants, and it’s reasonable to assume that’s the way their constituents feel (national polling is generally mixed on immigration and largely influenced by the way the questions are asked).
Bedwell conceded that amnesty is a flashpoint.
He said the industry needs to appeal to House reps who oppose reform by telling them that politics is more important than representing their constituents. Not to pick on Bedwell, but that’s an arguable point.
Even so, that’s an argument President Obama made to many moderate Democratic reps during the health care reform bill debate, which passed in 2009 on party lines, and contributed to the Republicans retaking the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.