Immigration a chance for Obama legacy - The Packer

Immigration a chance for Obama legacy

02/01/2013 09:30:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst, National EditorTom Karst, National EditorThe promise of immigration reform can be compared to when the “Peanuts” comic strip character Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick.

Just as he believes that Lucy, for once, will hold the ball perfectly in place for him to kick it through the imaginary uprights, Lucy pulls the ball away.

Charlie Brown lands on his backside and tragic hilarity ensues.

The cruelty of repeated tries at immigration reform without a favorable outcome is surely wearing on growers in the same way. But hope is there, still.

The point of it is whether immigration reform can deliver on two desired results: an improved guest worker program for agriculture and a way for the current undocumented workers to remain in the work force.

The U.S. economy and its growers can’t withstand another round of foolish delay, another football pulled away at the last minute.

Lee Wicker, deputy director of the Vass-based North Carolina Growers Association, said it is not the fear of enforcement that is compelling growers to become more vocal about immigration reform. Instead, it is the fear that the supply of farmworkers is growing more and more inadequate.

With specialty crop commodities often requiring thousands of dollars per acre to grow the crop and get it to market, a grower can’t go to the bank for a $1 million operating loan and not know if he will have enough workers to harvest his crops.

“Farmers are gamblers by their very nature, but they don’t want play Russian roulette,” he said.

There is some talk now that even with immigration reform, the demographics of Mexico are changing and that reality will leave the U.S. with worker shortages.

The end of farm labor abundance, as it were.

This may be true, that Mexico has decreasing ability to supply the U.S. ag farm labor over time. Yet in any case there is no argument against bold action to create an employer-friendly guest worker program as soon as possible.

The fact that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has come up with an immigration reform plan is encouraging.

The general aim of the legislation sounds familiar: a tough but fair path to citizenship, an effective employment verification system and an improved process to bring workers to the U.S.

While the Senate plan stated reform legislation should create a workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry, President Obama didn’t specifically address agriculture in his plan unveiled a day after the Senate’s.

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