Farmers and ranchers have needed a fix to our broken immigration system for more than two decades now. Not only are we still waiting on a fix, but in that time the problem has gotten worse, even as job numbers continue to grow across the country. America’s farms and ranches support thousands of those off-the-farm jobs, but if we can’t get the workforce we need to keep our businesses moving forward, our industry and America’s ability to feed itself will suffer.
Many of you have shared stories with me of how you’d love to expand your farm and ranch businesses and pass them on to the next generation, but without access to a stable workforce, your farm’s future is uncertain. Others have shared the common struggle you face season to season in finding enough workers to tend and harvest your crops—sometimes leaving you with no other choice but to allow perfectly good fruits and vegetables to go to waste. This simply should not happen.
We currently have the best chance for immigration reform agriculture has seen in many years, but the clock is ticking with very few legislative days left before the mid-term elections. Last fall, House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte introduced the AG Act (H.R. 4092). Like most bills at the start, this one was not perfect. But the Chairman listened to our concerns and made some critical changes when he introduced his revised bill, H.R. 6417, the AG and Legal Workforce Act. This bill is a prime example of how effective our grassroots members can be and why it is so important for each of you to share your stories and concerns with your lawmakers. The bill now includes a longer-term work visa, a stronger at-will program, a streamlined “touchback” process for workers, greater flexibility in the visa cap, a longer transition to the new H-2C program, and modified insurance requirements.
Thanks to your grassroots support, this bill now has more than 100 co-sponsors and bipartisan support in the House. Speaker Ryan has also committed to rounding up more support for the bill. We still have a chance to see real reform this year, but our work is far from done. There’s no two ways about it: If the AG and Legal Workforce Act doesn’t pass the House this fall, our chances for immigration reform will be lost, possibly for years. That’s the reality we’re facing on the issue, and it’s not an acceptable outcome for U.S. agriculture.
If the bill passes the House this fall, we will be working overtime advocating for the Senate to take action, including improvements to provisions affecting our current workforce—and we will once again be calling on our grassroots to join in. Farms across the country are facing a real labor crisis, and we cannot afford to lose our loyal employees who have become partners in making our farms and ranches successful. American Farm Bureau will continue to work for provisions that allow our current workers the opportunity to gain permanent legal status. If we’re going to get real reform across the finish line this fall, we must work together. No farm or ranch should be left behind while we wait for a fix to our broken immigration system, especially not when we are so close to a solution.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.