Nov 21, 2014
Obama actions ‘not expected’ to ease farm labor concerns

A call for a more targeted approach to help improve the farm labor environment marked early reaction from the agriculture community to President Barack Obama’s issuance of a series of executive actions to grant as many as 5 million unauthorized immigrants permits to work in the United States and temporary reprieve from deportation.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman's statement on Obama’s Nov. 20 announcement on immigration was as follows:

“In practical terms, we do not expect the president’s initiative to help America’s farmers deal with the real labor challenges they face. Our nation loses millions of dollars in fruit and vegetable production every year because farmers cannot find labor to harvest everything they grow. This order will not change that.

Farmers and ranchers need a new, flexible visa program that ensures long-term access to an expanding workforce by allowing foreign-born workers to enter the U.S. We also need to permit some current workers, many of whom have helped sustain our operations for years, to remain working in America.

Congress has a golden opportunity to present a clear vision on immigration in America. We need legislation that addresses border security and enforcement, improves an outdated agricultural visa program and gives experienced agricultural workers a way to gain legal status.

Congress and the president must work together to find a solution that works for America. The American Farm Bureau Federation will work closely with anyone who supports agricultural labor reform.”

Tom Nassif, CEO of Western Growers, issued the following statement:

“We cannot yet assess the full impact of the president’s actions on agriculture, but we know this: Congress must reassert its constitutional authority to make laws and pass immigration reform legislation critical to the needs of our industry and the nation. Some in Congress will argue that the president’s action must be met with a legislative response to block bad policies, but preventing the implementation of executive actions alone is not enough. These actions by the president should also serve as a catalyst for Congress to lead by passing meaningful immigration reform legislation.

Agriculture’s needs must be a top priority to ensure our existing workforce is given an incentive to continue working in agriculture until a new and better visa program is in place. The value of agricultural workers to our country’s economy and food production system must be recognized with a path to legal status that acknowledges their past service and ongoing importance to this industry.

An effective border security bill should be passed immediately, and it should accept that securing our borders is an ongoing and continuous commitment. While we need effective metrics for demonstrating progress, there is no ‘completion date’ for securing the border. Holding immigration reform hostage to arbitrary and momentary assessments of the border situation should be rejected.

Both parties and both chambers of the Congress must work together towards solutions. While Republicans are in control, we believe any legislation will require bipartisan support, and we expect our leaders to forge such agreement.

We will oppose any piecemeal legislative package that fails to put the agriculture industry at the front of the line. Our industry is in jeopardy. We expect no less than specific solutions that address problems unique to our industry.”

Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), which represents business interests in agriculture, made the following comments:

“While the exact impact that the president’s executive order on immigration will have on agriculture remains to be seen, the fact still stands that legislation is needed to provide a durable solution to the labor shortages being experienced by farmers, ranchers and growers.

For what appears to be a small subset of current agricultural workers, the president’s actions will alleviate some pressure in the short term but does not offer these workers, their families, their communities or their employers the long term assurance they deserve. To mix metaphors, we as a country should not bring people out of the shadows only to let them twist in the wind.

To meet future agricultural labor needs, the H-2A program remains broken beyond repair and a new, streamlined and market-based visa program is needed. Both of these goals – certainty for current workers and a working visa program for the future –can only be achieved through congressional action.

“Throughout the immigration reform debate over the past two years, NCFC has tried to embody the spirit of cooperation and consensus building that is needed to find a practical, common sense solution to this seemingly intractable problem. Over the next few weeks, these virtues will likely be in short supply on both sides of the partisan divide. A debate over the process used to enact these immigration changes, even when loud and emotion filled, will ultimately be healthy for our democracy. But when that debate is over, America’s farmers still face an unprecedented labor crisis. We hope that the start of the 114th Congress gives policy makers the chance to turn the page on this issue and we urge all of them – Republican and Democrat, Congress and the Administration—to find a way to come together and work collaboratively to address agricultural immigration reform.”

To most observers, the issue remains at a political standstill following years of rancorous debate.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, chair of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee issued the following statement:

“Our nation’s broken immigration system hurts families, workers, businesses and our farmers each and every day. We cannot afford to wait another 511 days to begin addressing this urgent problem, which is why the refusal of House Republicans to do anything to deal with our immigration issues left the president with no choice but to act using his own clear authority.

It’s not too late for Speaker (John) Boehner to allow the House of Representatives to vote on and pass the bipartisan Senate immigration reform plan, and I continue to urge him to do so immediately.”

Boehner, R-Ohio, responded to Obama's announcement as follows:

“The American people want both parties to focus on solving problems together; they don’t support unilateral action from a president who is more interested in partisan politics than working with the people’s elected representatives. That is not how American democracy works.

By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.

Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office. We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people. We will listen to them and protect the Constitution.”

Gary Pullano

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