While he remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) doesn’t have a positive outlook on its passage this year.

Leadership on the immigration issue is required by President Barack Obama before Congress can act, McCain recently told Western Growers officials, but that’s unlikely in an election year.

McCain told Western Growers said it will likely be impossible to pass AgJOBS as a stand-alone bill in 2010. “He believes that it will take passage of comprehensive (reform) in order to get AgJOBS,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president, who was in the group that met with McCain on Jan. 14.

The previous day, Dairy Herd Management interviewed Angelo Amador, director of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Amador pegged the chances of Congress passing meaningful immigration reform this year at 50/50. Read more. 

McCain and his staff initiated the Phoenix meeting with Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers to talk about issues for growers, Nassif said.

Nassif said McCain was energetic and upbeat at the meeting, which started and ended with discussion about the need for AgJOBS and immigration reform, Nassif said. Immigration, health care and climate change were the primary topics for discussion.

Nassif said Western Growers will continue to push for AgJOBS this year despite McCain’s skepticism about its changes.

“We don’t believe that comprehensive immigration reform will get done before the election either, but we want to get AgJOBS passed,” he said. “We believe it is a question of economic survival and a question of maintain a secure and stable food supply in the U.S.”

Nassif said the Western Growers provided McCain with policy papers on the group’s concerns, including health care costs for seasonal workers and undocumented workers. Western Growers would prefer that part-time seasonal workers be exempt from insurance requirements.

Currently, a majority of farm workers are not covered, he said.

“How do you impose those costs on companies where they don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so?” Nassif said.

Also, he said the health insurance arm of Western Growers needs a technical fix in the health care bill to be able to fully participate as an insurer.

“He said he would be happy to help us, but Republicans have had no say in drafting the health care legislation,” Nassif said.

Source: The Packer, owned by Vance Publishing Corp., parent company of Dairy Herd Management.