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April 4, 2013

Progress for Ag Labor Legislation

For more information on Newsline, contact: Kari Barbic, Media Specialist, American Farm Bureau Federation, karib@fb.org.

Congress may be on spring break this week, but that hasn’t stopped the work to negotiate new immigration policy. American Farm Bureau labor specialist Kristi Boswell says agricultural labor is an important part of the negotiations. AFBF’s Johnna Miller has that story.
Miller:There aren’t many issues more controversial and complicated than immigration. Figuring out how agricultural labor fits into any new comprehensive immigration policy is not different, but both sides are working to make that happen.
Boswell:This issue is so important for agriculture, from the business side of it and from the labor side and we want to make sure we can put together a proposal that works for employers on the ground; that’s efficient and cost-effective, but that does treat workers fairly. It’s the balance of finding that sweet spot that has been challenging at times.
Miller:American Farm Bureau labor specialist Kristi Boswell says there is now general agreement on the need for work authorization for experienced foreign workers and a new guestworker program with more flexibility than the current program, known as H2A.
Boswell:We are using a highly undocumented workforce. We know that with this comprehensive immigration reform, heightened enforcement will come along with it and we need to make sure that we can keep those experienced workers, but also make sure that we have a solution in the future. We do not want to go through this again in five or 10 years and that’s where that guestworker program really comes into play, making sure that works, making sure it is less bureaucratic and more streamlined than the H2A program is today.
Miller:Of course, some people ask, why hire foreign workers when unemployment is so high?
Boswell:There is broad recognition that agriculture doesn’t have access to a domestic labor force. Domestic workers are not coming out from urban centers to our rural areas to do this work. And we’ve come to rely, for better or for worse, on a immigrant labor force and we expect that we will continue to and are making plans to ensure that we have access to a legal immigrant labor force.
Miller:And if that labor force isn’t available?
Boswell: There have been many situations where growers are scrounging to find a labor force. I know a grower in Alabama, a tomato grower, needed his tomatoes picked and couldn’t find labor, was searching all over and ended up having to disc up his crop because it was rotting. It really comes down to we’re importing our labor or we’re importing our food and we want to make sure we can grow a safe and affordable food product in the United States.
Miller:Johnna Miller, Washington.
Miller:Newsline is updated Mondays and Thursdays by 5pm Eastern. Thank you for listening.

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