Ag Policy Blog

Facing Border and Migrant Politics, Some Lawmakers Push Ag Immigration Reform

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Farm workers protesting at the U.S. Capitol a decade ago calling for immigration reform that eventually failed. House lawmakers are now trying to convince Senate colleagues to pass a bill comparable to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the House last year. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

A group of Republican House members on Tuesday called on their Senate colleagues to pass a bipartisan farm labor bill that calls for overhauling the H-2A program.

The lawmakers came armed with a new study from Texas A&M highlighting new data on the importance of stabilizing the agricultural workforce as one means to help deal with inflation and prices. The A&M study "shows that ensuring farmers have a stable, secure, reliable, and legal workforce is crucial to keeping America's grocery shelves stocked, combating inflation, and lowering food prices (including milk, eggs, meat, and produce) for all domestic consumers," the study states.

More migrant and H-2A workers would lower food inflation. More migrant and H-2A workers are associated with higher average wages, as well as lower unemployment. Also, denying petitions for nationalization is associated with larger consumer prices and higher inflation. Approving more petitions for naturalization is associated with lower inflation, the study states.

"Overall, the findings in this study tended to support the conclusion that policies on non-citizen admissions and immigration have a profound association with the economy," said Sean Maddan, the A&M professor who led the study. "The relationships denoted above are strong, statistically significant relationships, and definitely warrant further research and consideration."

The GOP lawmakers spearheading the press conference at the Capitol were Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington, Jim Baird of Indiana, Doug LaMalfa of California and Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Those congressmen were pushing support for Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who have taken up the task the Senate to get a bill passed comparable to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill that passed the House on a 247-174 vote in March 2021.

The press conference at the Capitol also was pegged to Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador's visit to Washington.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would overhaul the H-2A visa program for farm workers, providing dairy farmers and other producers the opportunity to bring in workers for three-year visas, assuring year-round labor needs are met. Initially, there would be up to 20,000 initial year-round visas for the first three years -- with capacity to increase the visa volumes if the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture consider it necessary.

The bill also would legalize hundreds of thousands of farm workers who are working in the country now illegally. These workers would qualify for five-year renewable visas, including options for permanent legal status. It would also establish a national E-Verify system for all agricultural employers.

The House press conference on Tuesday also included quotes and support from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, the International Fresh Produce Association, the New York Farm Bureau and the Utah Farm Bureau, and the American Business Immigration Coalition Action. Those groups talked about the labor challenges they face.

"It is paramount that we have an agricultural guestworker system that addresses both long- and short-term farm labor needs in this country," said David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau. "We look forward to a Senate bill that would modernize the federal H-2A program to have a continuous, legal workforce for all sectors of agriculture. This includes opening the system to year-round employees that are needed on farms that milk cows and care for livestock. We must all come together to fix a longtime problem that will support our farms and the American people. Food security is national security."

All of this focus on agricultural labor, H-2A and overhauling immigration to bring in more labor may seem like a practical solution, but it also goes against all of the other election-year comments coming out of the U.S. Senate right now.

Rather than deal with ag labor, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, on Wednesday dropped a bill, "Solving the Border Crisis Act." Their bill would resume building a wall and tightening enforcement at the border with Mexico, reinstate the pandemic emergency "Title 42" rule, and make "remain in Mexico" a permanent program.

"The Biden administration's dismantling of the effective immigration system it inherited has created a full-blown disaster at the southern border. The past few months of illegal migrant encounters have broken every record in the book, and there is no end in sight unless we secure our border with strong immigration policies," Risch said. "Using several of the findings of my recent migration report, I'm proud to introduce the Solving the Border Crisis Act to prevent this national security and public health disaster from getting any worse."

On Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she was headed to visit the Texas-Mexico border "amidst unrelenting illegal immigration crisis." Ernst will tour the Rio Grande Valley with Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

"Month after month we continue to see complete chaos at the Southern border under this administration," Ernst said. "With our Border Patrol agents more overwhelmed than ever, we need serious action to restore law and order at the border. I'm looking forward to meeting with the men and women on the frontlines of this crisis and bringing back potential solutions to my colleagues in the Senate."

These efforts to legalize farm workers and modify H-2A go back more than a decade -- practically at least two decades. The odds of the U.S. Senate taking up an immigration reform bill for agriculture in the last six months before a mid-term election are not good.

A link to the Texas A&M study:…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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2/16/2021 | 7:24 AM CST
Climate has been changing since the beginning of time and will continue to do so on a natural basis. I haven't seen any extremes in weather or climate that my Grandfather or father didn't see and I'm 70 years old. There are so many things that effect weather that even with all the technology today, weather men are only 50% accurate. Magnetics effect the weather and according to some weather gurus, the earths magnetic fields change from time to time. The last 2 nights we have broken record lows set in the 1930's and a look at the weather records shows that during the 30"s we also had record 105 plus heat. There weren't near the combustion engines or factories back then to produce carbon. Now they are blaming weather on animal farts- come on man. Carbon in the air only amounts to .04%. We have far bigger problems to tackle. Our education system is failing us.
2/16/2021 | 2:16 AM CST
The above is all political gobbly gook. Where we need to start is by teaching, talking about and acknowledging how our natural biological system works . All schools should teach this. Birds, fish, animals and people eat other plants and animals and breath in air. Thier bodies use the proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, trace minerals, etc and oxygen and they poop, pee and breath out carbon dioxide. The poop and pee contain the same elements that are in fertilizer- phosphates, potash, nitrogen, sulfur and other natural elements and the exhaled air contains carbon dioxide which plants use to grow. Plants also use the carbon dioxide to grow and exhale oxygen for plants, animals, fish and people to use. According to several websites I googled, our air is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, .9% Argon, .04% water vapor, .04% carbon dioxide, and traces of about a dozen other elements. Right now the carbon dioxide in the air runs about 500- 750 parts per Million and has been as high as high as 8000 ppm several thousand years ago. Carbon dioxide is plant food. Plants are using it up as fast as we are making it. Ever notice in the pictures of smog that there are all buildings in the pictures and very few plants and trees? Does it really make sense to worry about carbon in the air when it makes up such a small part of the air? With 78% of the air being nitrogen, doesn't it make sense that there will be some in the water all the time and more after heavy rain events? It appears that our education system is failing us and just promoting an unscientific agenda.