Earlier this month, President Obama renewed his call for comprehensive immigration reform.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman says U.S. agriculture has one big stake in immigration reform. He says reform must assure that American agriculture has a legal, stable supply of workers in the short- and long-term:
About a third of the individuals employed in agriculture, about a million workers are hired. Now, nobody knows how many of these workers are not authorized to work, they have the documents that employers are required to look at work, but employers don’t have a way to look at verify documents. That means that there are a number of workers that are at risk and put more stringent restrictions in place. Now, what does that mean in agriculture? Well, about five to nine billion dollars a year of production are dependant on these workers that are here.”
Under the current system, without an alternative labor supply, Stallman says the U.S. would lose those workers. While most Americans don’t recognize it, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, those workers play an important role in delivering the safe and affordable food supply Americans enjoy. He says the nation’s broken immigration system threatens these benefits:
“Our nation’s farmers need system that will reward them for playing by the rules and not punish them for it. we need to stop threatening the competitiveness of our agriculture economy with broken immigration policy. We need to start this conversation about immigration reform again, we need to keep it in mind that America’s working farmers, ranchers and farm workers and the food they put on our kitchen tables depend on it.”
That’s why the issue is a top priority for Farm Bureau. Stallman says the group is supporting legislative efforts to reform current guest worker programs - but adds new innovative approaches are needed:
“Why programs with biometric identifiers can be provided to workers who want to come across these borders to work, to create the greater economic opportunity for themselves and frankly to do the jobs that American workers will not do. And it’s absolutely essential for agriculture that in comprehensive immigration reform we address this issue of what happens with this nation’s agriculture labor supply.”
If it’s not addressed, Vilsack says ...and the existing immigration system isn’t fixed:
“There will be a day when we’re not going to be able to find the workers to do the work. And what will happen we’ll either see an increase in food prices, or just as likely importing additional foods from other countries. We have a strong agricultural economy right now, we have a strong export opportunities, and we don’t want to jeopardize that by not having a workforce capable of getting this job done.”
Vilsack notes the Administration wants to get Americans in on the debate and is encouraging communities to host roundtables on immigration reform. To let the Administration know about an event and to invite an Administration official to attend - visit www.whitehouse.gov/immigrationaction.