February 13, 2019

Immigration Reform Should Come This Year

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Immigration reform has long been on the wish list of American agriculture. One policy analyst says there’s no time like the present to check it off the list. 

“I’m going to go out on a limb, not a twig, and say that if you’re going to get [immigration reform] done, this is the year to do it,” said Jim Wiesemeyer, Washington policy analyst with Pro Farmer. “You have to have other leaders from both political parties because it’s a sensitive issue, but I think the majority in Congress know that there’s a need. The question is, what pieces of the puzzle called immigration reform can be put together to get the necessary votes.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) almost got it done last year before supporters got cold feet, Wiesemeyer told U.S. Farm Report Host Tyne Morgan adding Graham is a person to watch as immigration reform conversations continue to happen. 

Agriculture relies heavily on immigrant labor, from seasonal workers working in produce fields to full-time employees working in meat packing plants and on dairy operations. Unfortunately, a significant amount of that immigrant labor is in the U.S. illegally. Part of immigration reform includes helping those that have been in this country illegally a path to citizenship without repercussion. 

In a Los Angeles Times column, Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), called on Congress to redo the H-2A program which focuses on seasonal immigrant labor. In the article, Duvall said AFBF was encouraged by a bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) that would provide a pathway to legalization for agricultural workers who are already here. The bill would allow immigrant workers to receive a “blue card” if they have worked in the U.S. at least 100 days over the previous two years.  

There is a perception that getting anything passed through Congress is difficult, and any legislation around immigration reform has been a hot button issue. But according to Wiesemeyer, if and when the pending government spending bill is approved, other action could begin to happen. 

“We’ve seen a lot of bluster, but if the spending bill can get through, you can have all of the bluster you want but at the end of the day we can get some action done,” Wiesemeyer says. “Things can get done if it’s the right topic and we don’t have demagoguery from both political parties on the issue. The next nine months or so are going to be very important to get consensus on a number of much needed issues.”

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