Smith: Agriculture is in the midst of a labor crisis that’s only getting worse. Ag groups have been pushing Congress to fix the immigration system for the last two decades. Paul Schlegel, AFBF managing director of public policy and economics, says it’s past time for Congress to get the immigration system overhauled. He says one of the first things to decide is how to grant legal status to the workforce that’s already in the country.
Schlegel: We are now dependent, to a large degree, on hundreds of thousands of workers who would like to get legal status and we want to get them legal status, so stabilization of our existing workforce is a principal element that has to be addressed, and, for the future, we have to have a guest worker program that embraces all of agriculture, that’s affordable, that’s not bureaucratic, that gets employers workers when they need them.
Smith: The House of Representatives is due to consider an immigration bill sponsored by Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Schlegel says the bill improves the guest worker program, but Farm Bureau is also paying close attention to other aspects of the bill.
Schlegel: It’s an affordable program, and it moves to the Department of Agriculture, it’s less expensive for growers, so there are very, very many ways that the guest worker program is positive. The other aspect, our short-term issue on stabilization of the existing workforce, the bill falls short and we have been in ongoing discussions with the chairman and his staff. It’s not frankly where we’d like it to be at the moment, but, we certainly want to make sure that if the House passes any kind of legislation, they have something on agriculture.
Smith: With growing concerns about immigration and its connection to the House farm bill’s passage, Schlegel says the House will take action soon. He says Farm Bureau’s main concern is that ag labor be included in an immigration reform package.
Schlegel: We expect something will happen in the month of June, maybe in the third week of June, but we don’t yet know what a package is going to look like and we are trying feverishly to make sure that if there’s some new vehicle that is going to get voted on and pass, that it addresses at least some aspects of agricultural labor.
Smith: Chad Smith, Washington.