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Ag Support Immigration Reform Plan

by Mike Austin

Although a lot of attention is being paid to the passage of a long term Farm Bill, Agriculture also has a few other priority issues that it is focusing in on this legislative session. In particular, Comprehensive Immigration Reform. That is why when the full Senate returns from their Memorial Day Recess agriculture will be ready to lobby for the passage of the bill that made it through committee. Although far from perfect and scrutinized and criticized by both political parties the so called gang of 8 proposals is one agriculture can work with. Like it or not Kate Boswell of the American Farm Bureau Federation says today's production agriculture is a deficit labor industry, especially in the area of fruit and vegetable production and dairy. Boswell says two different Ag coalitions were able to provide input into what the industry felt were fair and equitable plans that would ensure a strong workforce without just providing immigrant workers with amnesty. After hours of debate and amendments, the bill that now goes to the Senate floor does contain two key provisions that Agriculture strongly supports. The first is a precursor to a Green Card, called  the Blue Card proposal. Boswell says the plan provides for a legal authorization for immigrants to work and travel in the U.S.while giving  a commitment to continue to work in agriculture for a period of five years. At that point they would be eligible for their Green Card.

The second key provision in the bill calls for a new direction in the Guest Worker Program. According to Boswell this program would provide for more stability in the immigrant workforce, ensuring farmers with access to guest workers into the future. The plan allows for a 3 year Visa and provides employment terms in either the form of a contract or at the will of the immigrant worker so to allow them to follow seasonal work patterns if that is what they prefer. It would also give the employer the option of having the security of a contract with his labor force. The measure also calls for fair and equitable labor standards ensuring the laborer would be treated fairly. 

Now even if the bill is able to make it through the senate in tact, it still has a more perilous journey through the House. So even though many feel the climate may be right for comprehensive immigration reform. the temperature may still be too hot politically to get the job done. Stay tune for a progress report.