Agricultural groups largely praised the U.S. Senate for its 68-32 vote on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Fourteen Republicans joined 53 Democrats and two independents in backing the bill. All 32 votes against the bill were Republicans.
The legislation, which would legalize as many as 11 million now in the country illegally, moves to the House where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already said the House will not vote on it. The House Judiciary Committee is working on its own piecemeal approach to immigration.
The Ag Workforce Coalition, formed by several farm groups to champion an immigration overhaul, stated the Senate bill "is a landmark achievement in agriculture’s effort to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have access to a legal, skilled and stable workforce."
Agricultural groups worked with members of the United Farm Workers to craft language on the agricultural components of the Senate bill.
“The AWC would like to recognize the leadership and hard work shown by the Senate ‘Gang of Eight’ in shepherding this bill through the chamber and garnering broad-based, bipartisan support for the measure. In addition, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Orrin Hatch were instrumental in fostering the agreement between the AWC and the UFW and ensuring that the agricultural provisions work for both producers and farm workers.
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Under the bill, undocumented workers now employed on farms would apply for a blue card making them legal. After five years, they could apply for permanent residence in the U.S. Farm workers also would get preferential treatment on becoming citizens with a 10-year window instead of 13 years for others in the bill.
The bill also would include an initial level of 112,333 agricultural guest-worker visas. That number would increase annually and the agriculture secretary would have discretion to increase the number of guest workers. A person could stay in the country for up to three years on one of those visas.
Former agriculture secretaries John Block, Clayton Yeutter, Mike Espy and Dan Glickman, --- who respectively served for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- wrote senators earlier in the week that the immigration bill will reform agricultural labor and "will help ensure that our farms and ranches remain competitive, and that Americans continue to have access to the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world."
The secretaries added that during their own tenures, each had seen "the growing inability of farmers, ranchers and growers to find the workers they need to harvest crops, care for animals or maintain healthy orchards. This is a problem that has been growing in severity and intensity for the past three decades."
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, said in a statement that the bill "includes a fair and workable farm labor provision." Stallman said the bill is the first step in reforming the immigration system. "We look forward to working with members in the House of Representative to pass responsible immigration reform legislation that includes an earned adjustment for experienced undocumented agricultural workers and a new, flexible guest-worker program. It is critical that both chambers pass legislation that can be reconciled in conference and signed into law.”
Tom Stenzel, CEO of United Fresh, one of the biggest lobby groups for fruit and vegetable growers, also applauded the bill's passage and the role agricultural groups played in the bill. “This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain, and boost the economy," Stenzel said. "We appreciate the efforts of our allies in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers with whom we worked to advance provisions that will provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers.”
The National Milk Producers Federation also backs the bill, particularly because the visa provision allows farmers to hire guest-workers for longer periods of time. Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF, said the bill will make it easier to recruit dairy workers.
“Dairy farmers have been concerned that their current workers might be overlooked by the reform efforts, but the Senate bill addresses that concern, by allowing currently employed, but undocumented, workers to maintain their jobs. This is a huge benefit, both to workers, and their employers,” Kozak said.
Yet, thoughts of failure at this point are real, given the House of Representatives is building a track record of being unable to come to bipartisan terms on legislation. That was reflected last week in the vote on the farm bill -- a piece of legislation never deemed to be controversial until now. Getting a monumental bill full of controversy such as immigration reform passed seems a near impossibility. President Barack Obama indicated that the opposition is now going to get stronger.
"Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality," Obama said. "We cannot let that happen. If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress. Tell them to do the right thing. Tell them to pass commonsense reform so that our businesses and workers are all playing by the same rules and everyone who’s in this country is paying their fair share in taxes."
The full Senate vote: http://dld.bz/…
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