While they likely sway no final votes, four former U.S. agriculture secretaries wrote senators on Tuesday asking them to support the comprehensive immigration overhaul now headed for final passage in the Senate,
The Senate is scheduled to have a final vote later Wednesday afternoon. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters earlier Wednesday that the House will not take up the Senate version of the bill.
Former 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 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."
The secretaries said the Senate bill, S 744, is the best opportunity in decades to fix this problem.
Still, the one former agriculture secretary who could have an impact on the final vote will against it. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who was ag secretary from 2005-2008, told Nebraska reporters Wednesday he remain opposed to the bill. He said the bill had "serious weaknesses" that were not corrected in the amendment debate. He told reporters the bill didn't address the problem of identity theft. He introduced a late amendment that would attempt to deal with that, but the amendment would not be considered. Johanns did get an amendment approved to encourage former military members to become border agents. Nonetheless, Johanns remained largely against the overall legislation.
The bill would legalize an estimated 11 million people now living in the U.S. illegally and create a path to citizenship that could take as long as 13 years.
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.
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