Thursday, November 08, 2007
Immigration amendment could 'impede' farm bill.
Farm Bureau analysts warn there are risks in introducing “divisive” immigration issues into an already controversial farm bill debate.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) argued AgJOBS, a stalled immigration reform proposal that would grant temporary legal status to an estimated 800,000 migrant farmworkers, should be offered as a farm bill amendment on the Senate floor.
AgJOBS champion Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) reportedly has been canvassing senators and staff seeking support for a floor amendment.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) seeks reforms in the face of increased immigration enforcement and its impact on farm labor availability. But AFBF analyst Stefphanie Gambrell fears immigration debate “could have the ability to impede the farm bill.”
“We have not been supportive of having a divisive immigration debate taken up in the context of the farm bill,” AFBF policy specialist Paul Schlegel told FarmWeek.
“If members (of Congress) were to coalesce around a modified version of AgJOBS or anything else that addressed our needs in agriculture, if it wasn’t divisive and there was a consensus, that would be another question entirely.”
Further, Gambrell argued AgJOBS does not adequately address deficiencies in the existing H2-A ag guestworker program.
Under AgJobs, workers could obtain a temporary “blue card” to stay in the U.S. if they have been working on farms for at least two years.
Schlegel agreed the plan initially would “stabilize” the ag labor force, but Gambrell suggested many blue card workers likely would move into other fields such as construction once they eventually obtained their permanent residency or “green card.”
According to USDA, the number of hired ag workers nationwide is down this fall over the third quarter of 2006. Over the past year, federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have ramped up raids and other activities, including last week’s arrest of a Vermont hotel owner for hiring illegal workers.
Gambrell attributed a quarter-by-quarter reduction in worker numbers in part to a “fear of enforcement.”
At the same time, a federal court has temporarily barred the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from enforcing new “no-match” letters that alert employers to mismatches between a worker’s name and reported Social Security number and ask them to help resolve the problem. Employers would have 90 days to comply with the letters.
Schlegel was uncertain how long the injunction against no-match implementation would remain in place, and advised farmers that “ignoring these letters is not an appropriate approach.” — Martin Ross