|By TIM ALEXANDER
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A compromise bipartisan plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws failed to pass the U.S. Senate Friday during the legislation’s first test vote.
Earlier in the week, Democratic and Republican leaders had agreed to a compromised plan that would include a “guest worker provision” highly coveted by agriculture leaders. According to the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), new bickering among leaders from both parties shelved the measure amid complaints it would give amnesty to immigrants who illegally enter the country.
Now the IFB is expressing concern the Senate’s action could ultimately doom efforts to pass a comprehensive, reformed immigration policy this election year. IFB President Philip Nelson said the future economic well-being of the country’s agriculture industry depends on the inclusion of a guest worker provision in the new policy, which the IFB and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) hoped the Senate would have approved last week. A House-passed immigration bill does not contain a guest worker provision and focuses on enforcement only.
“While Farm Bureau members appreciate the need to strengthen border security, they also understand the economic livelihoods of many farmers are at risk if Congress adopts policies that place a stranglehold on agriculture’s ability to hire guest workers,” Nelson said.
Along with the service industry, agriculture workers comprise the brunt of the nation’s migrant labor force.
A Labor Department report showed that nearly 800,000 workers were employed in January on U.S. farms, including 37,000 in a three-state region that includes Illinois, according to the IFB.
During the IFB’s annual meeting, delegates expressed support for a guest worker provision, Nelson said.
“More hog and dairy farmers are telling us they’re relying on immigrant workers to perform the kinds of difficult but necessary jobs that seemingly fewer young rural people are willing to do,” Nelson said.
The AFBF recently completed a study that found if Congress enacts legislation dealing only with border security and enforcement, the impact on agriculture would be enormous. Potential losses in the fruit and vegetable industry alone have been pegged at between $5-$9 billion per year, according to the study.
“The agriculture industry is unique in that we are highly dependent on temporary foreign workers to fill jobs most Americans do not want to perform,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Many family farms depend on temporary labor and could not sustain the impact of net farm income losses brought about by current immigration proposals.”
According to the AFBF, up to one-third of the nation’s fruit and vegetable growers would not be able to compete without guest workers, and the fruit, vegetable and nursery sectors - as they now exist - could disappear. Instead of stocking products grown and harvested in the United States, America’s grocers would stock their shelves with foreign-grown produce and billions of dollars currently kept in the United States would go overseas, the AFBF claims.
“Farm Bureau will not stand by while a significant segment of our industry is outsourced to foreign countries,” Stallman said. “We will work vigorously for a sensible, balanced immigration bill that secures our borders, toughens sanctions on those who willingly violate the law, and provides American agriculture with a viable guest worker program that maintains this vibrant sector of the U.S. economy.”
To view the entire AFBF study Immigration Reform Must Include Guest Worker Provisions on the web, visit www.fb.org
This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.