With fields left unharvested and farmers adjusting cultural practices due to a lack of willing and able employees, agricultural organizations including the California Farm Bureau Federation are working alongside farmworker advocates, asking the House of Representatives to pass meaningful reform to the federal immigration system when Congress returns from its August recess.
During a roundtable discussion with U.S. Department of Agriculture Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse in Sacramento last week, CFBF President Paul Wenger said it is time to "rally the troops" on the issue of immigration reform.
"There are folks who say, 'If they don't get it done this year, there's always next year.' No, there is no next year. This is it," Wenger said. "It is time for folks to put their differences aside and get it done. It's going to take phone calls from our members and talking to folks that they have supported for a lot of years saying, 'This is it.'"
Scuse told the group he is optimistic that, ultimately, the nation will achieve some type of meaningful reform.
"The House of Representatives has elected to divide this up into four different bills and piecemeal it. If they can pass those bills so that they can go to conference and work out the differences, it may be workable," Scuse said.
Wenger and Scuse were joined by representatives from other agricultural organizations as well as United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, to discuss prospects that the House will pass immigration-reform legislation this year.
"We are at a very critical state. There are 39 days left when Congress comes back into session between now and the end of the year, so that doesn't give us much time," Rodriguez said. "This industry doesn't survive if we keep putting this off. The time has come that we need to act as unified as we possibly can between labor and management to really let our voices be heard."
In June, the Senate passed S. 744, an immigration bill that contains an earned adjustment in status for current, experienced farmworkers and a program to ensure that farmers and ranchers continue to have access to a legal workforce as current agricultural employees move on to other jobs. S. 744 enjoyed wide support from farm groups, particularly the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, a nationwide group of agricultural organizations that collectively developed a set of principles that defined the agricultural immigration program contained in the bill.
The House has introduced multiple bills and is working on additional pieces of legislation that, if passed, would merge as one package to meet the Senate in conference committee.