Immigration a chance for Obama legacy

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

Congress and the president must make a generous provision for future flows of agriculture workers into the U.S.

If giving a path to citizenship to current undocumented workers is important to them, they must go against Big Labor to insist that an improved guest worker program is available to growers.

United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said in a statement that he was pleased Obama didn’t propose a new visa program for guest workers. While farm labor advocates can be valuable allies for immigration reform, Obama and members of Congress must meet the labor needs of production agriculture.

Unions have traditionally been against guest worker programs, so their counsel on the subject is tainted.

Many ag labor advocates say the U.S. Department of Agriculture should run the next version of the agricultural guest worker program, with the primary priority of helping U.S. agricultural employers find the guest workers they need in a timely fashion.

The debate on immigration reform will have to navigate the explosive territory of amnesty in dealing with current unauthorized workers. Health care costs will also be raised as a volatile objection to moving forward.

Given the potential pitfalls ahead, failure is always a possibility. Whether it is union-friendly liberal Democrats or Tea Party conservatives who pull the football away, agricultural producers will be on their backsides either way. Again.

A better result would be the ball splitting the uprights, giving President Obama a lasting legacy and Republicans a stronger Latino appeal in the next election.

And most importantly for the industry, of course, the kick would bring a consistent labor supply to harvest U.S. produce crops.

tkarst@thepacker.com

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