Apr 7, 2007
President Bush Vows to Push Immigration Reform

It’s been more than a year since President George Bush announced his immigration reform proposal, and the U.S. Congress has yet to take action on it. That might change during the president’s second term.

In recent interviews, Bush said he would force Congress to debate his proposal, however, its prospects for being adopted are uncertain.

The president proposed that the U.S. grant temporary worker status to undocumented workers now employed in the country and to those in foreign countries who have been offered employment here. The temporary workers would pay a one-time fee to register in the program and would be required to return to their home country after three years, when their legal status ends.

If adopted, the proposal will match willing workers with willing employers and promote compassionate immigration practices while protecting American jobs and streamlining border security, according to the White House.

Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), said the council “conceptually” agrees with the president’s proposal, but would have to see the finished product before it gives any official support.

In the last decade, the United States has tightened its border security, but the number of illegal immigrants has more than doubled, from 4 million to 10 million, so rigorous enforcement isn’t working. The NCAE supports any plan that gives workers the legal means to get jobs in the United States and relegates border enforcement to the real criminals, like drug smugglers, Hughes said.

The president’s broad proposal would affect many industries, not just agriculture. Other business sectors haven’t hammered out worker protection agreements like the agricultural sector has, so it could take years for the proposal to go into effect in some industries, Hughes said.

“In the past, the government has always recognized that agriculture is unique,” she said. “There were always special provisions. Now, we’ll be competing with other sectors.”

Hughes said the NCAE is focusing on another piece of legislation called the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Securities Act (AgJOBS), which was introduced in September 2003 by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

AgJOBS would ensure farmers had a stable workforce by reforming the temporary foreign agricultural worker program, also known as H-2A, and by allowing about half a million agricultural workers who lack authorized immigration status the opportunity to apply for permanent residency, according to the NCAE.

Since immigration is such a controversial issue, the AgJOBS bill opened a huge can of worms in Congress, and there wasn’t enough time to get it passed. The bill will be re-introduced very soon and, hopefully, it will have enough momentum in the new Congress to pass, said Dan Whiting, Sen. Craig’s press secretary.

Craig supports the president’s immigration reform proposal, Whiting said.

“It’s important for the agricultural community to get the workers they need,” he said. “We believe the AgJOBS bill helped drive the issue in Congress.”


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