Agricultural groups jumped in Monday to praise a bi-partisan immigration reform proposal championed by four Democratic and four Republican senators.
Senators put forward a five-page outline on Monday that would include a path to citizenship for the 11 million or so people now in the country illegally. The plan also calls for tightening border security and better enforcement for employment verification.
Regarding agricultural labor, the proposal would effectively overhaul the H2A guest worker program and "create a workable program to meet the needs of America's agricultural industry, including dairy, to find agricultural workers when American workers are not available to fill open positions."
The proposal would also allow more low-skill laborers into the country as well.
The senators said they plan to have a bill put together by March. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama is expected to outline a similar proposal in a speech in Las Vegas. Jay Carney, a spokesman for the president, praised the Senate proposal on Monday.
"The President believes it is very important that we move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. It’s the right thing to do for the country, for our economy. It’s the right thing to do out of fairness to the middle class to make sure that everyone plays by the same set of rules. "
The recently-formed Agriculture Workforce Coalition, which is made up of several major farm organizations, issued a statement noting that the senators' proposal is the first step in tackling the issue of immigration.
“The AWC remains committed to the goal of ensuring that America’s farms, ranches and other agricultural operations have access to a stable and skilled workforce. Especially important, from our perspective, is that legislation must address our future workforce needs with a modern guest worker visa program, in addition to providing an adjustment in immigration status for current experienced workers. This position is also fully consistent with the principles outlined by the Senators.
“As this process begins, the AWC looks forward to working with both members of Congress and the administration to ensure that America’s farmers have access to the workers they need to maintain their productivity and competitiveness.”
Some studies have estimated farm labor accounts for about 500,000 illegal immigrants though the H2A program only provides fewer than 70,000 short-term workers a year. That doesn't help farmers and ranchers who need full-time labor on their operations.
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents California and Arizona fruit and vegetable growers, said, "The bi-partisan Senate principles include a separate path to legalization for existing falsely documented agriculture workers that would allow producers to keep their experienced workforce. The principles also propose creating a workable program for attracting new employees in the future to do many of these jobs which Americans are not taking.
Senators who pushed the plan included Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., John McCain, R-Ariz., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
A link to the five-page proposal can be found on Sen. Bennet's website. http://www.bennet.senate.gov/…
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