Washington Insider -- Thursday

More Immigration Uncertainty

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Producers to Sen. Hoeven: USDA Calculations Key for COVID Aid

North Dakota producers signaled that how USDA calculates the price losses relative to payments it will issue under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) program will be key. Farmer made those views known in a call with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., on Tuesday.

USDA wants to get the aid out quickly, but Hoeven said he is pushing on the agency to make sure the assistance matches the impacts the sector has seen. Producers told Hoeven those calculations by USDA are key for livestock and crop farmers. Hoeven said his involvement will be to push USDA on the details as those will be a crucial part of the regulation that USDA will use to put the aid together and that may go to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) yet this week.

The payment limit set by USDA -- $125,000 per crop and a total of $250,000 per person or entity -- have been raised as a key issue that could dramatically impact the level of help that dairy producers and others may be able to receive via CFAP.

NCBA Says They Have Not Asked For Beef Buys

While the head of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) says the group is thankful beef producers will be getting more than half of the COVID-19 relief funds from the USDA, NCBA head Colin Woodall told Brownfield Ag News the industry does not want anything for commodity purchases.

“Given what we are seeing with the packing plants that have shut down or have scaled down we need to make sure all of that product is going directly to retail,” Woodhall said. “So, that is our preference right now. So, NCBA will not be asking for a beef buy by the U.S. government nor have we asked for a beef buy.”

Washington Insider: More Immigration Uncertainty

President Donald Trump announced a new policy that halts the issuance of green cards for two months. The move stops short of a sweeping immigration ban but also includes hints regarding additional restrictions that could complicate planning for businesses and workers looking to rebound from the coronavirus.

The new order will affect thousands of would-be immigrants seeking to move permanently to the U.S., Bloomberg says, and “further delays a green card process that is already notoriously cumbersome for those seeking to work in this country.”

Temporary workers in agriculture and other fields are the country’s biggest source of immigration and will not be affected, the report says.

Nevertheless, the president’s comments regarding an even more restrictive executive order now under consideration adds to the confusion over the outlook, Bloomberg thinks. Companies may prove less likely to seek and hire foreign workers or proceed with projects dependent on non-American labor, especially if they fear new restrictions from the White House.

“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced by new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” the president said at a White House briefing on Tuesday evening. “We must first take care of the American worker.”

The president also described the new policy as “prohibiting immigration into our Country,” without alluding to its exemptions.

Bloomberg explained the uncertainty regarding the order on the grounds that it was “still being drafted.” It is expected to contain exemptions and would not apply to health care or medical research professionals, Bloomberg said.

Technology industry workers living in the U.S. on H-1B visas, however, would have to provide updated certifications to the government that they are not displacing American workers. Refugees and asylum seekers would not be affected by the order, nor would spouses and children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Still, the president hinted that additional restrictions could be on the horizon, particularly if the economy struggles to bounce back from the prolonged coronavirus shutdown. “We have a secondary order that, if I want to do that, we’ll make that determination,” the president said.

He also said he could extend the green card ban if the economy hadn’t sufficiently improved within two months—since he has “determined that we cannot jump start the domestic economy if Americans are forced to compete against an artificially enlarged labor pool caused by the introduction of foreign workers.”

He noted in his remarks that he has determined that the entry of most aliens as “permanent or temporary workers in the immediate term would have adverse impacts on the national interest.”

The immediate practical effect of the order remains unclear, Bloomberg said. Immigration agencies and embassies have largely stopped processing visas, meaning many of those seeking to immigrate to or visit the U.S. cannot do so. Refugee admissions have been suspended since March 19 after the United Nations and International Organizations for Migration temporarily halted refugee travel. The U.S. suspension has been extended to May 15.

The president’s Monday tweet apparently caught immigration officials off guard, Bloomberg thinks, and noted that he “looks to contain the health, economic and political fallout from the pandemic that has killed more than 42,000 Americans in an election year, while shuttering the economy whose strength had been the base of his campaign only two months ago.”

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, told reporters on Tuesday at the White House that the suspension is “a temporary issue” but said he didn’t know how long it would last.

Lawmakers had yet to receive any details from the administration as late as midday Tuesday, one Republican official told Bloomberg.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he didn’t know if President Trump’s pause on for legal immigration makes sense. “We’ve been a welcoming nation and we need people,” he said. However, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas welcomed the decision. “I think this is a reasonable short-term measure, a reasonable emergency measure,” Cruz said.

So, we will see. The new policy has attracted intense scrutiny and will generate more as additional details emerge. Clearly, immigration is a hot, hot topic and the uncertainty regarding the new rules will be debated, along with the opaque process that appears to be in use, a fight producers should watch closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

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