When most Californians think of supporting an area farmer, they probably think about “buying local” and “farm fresh.” And while buying locally grown products is always a great idea, state and federal policies can also give our agricultural sector a boost.
Today I want to share my views on immigration reform and talk about how Californians can really help our farmers – by encouraging their members of Congress to pass immigration reform this year.
While the Central Valley certainly faces some of the local law enforcement issues related to our active border, much of the rest of California talks about immigration reform in terms of jobs. We have farms throughout our great state that rely on seasonal employees to plant, nurture and harvest crops, while others process their products on site, requiring many hands to do all of the work. Even our cattle and dairy farmers depend heavily on farm labor to care for their herds.
The real immigration challenge for farmers is that hiring legal hands can be difficult. The guest worker program is a disaster and is so fraught with red tape and delays that many farmers who desperately need additional workers get frustrated with the overwhelming amounts of paperwork and stop trying. Hiring from the community is always an option, but it is very difficult to tell which documents are forged and which are legitimate working papers, so farmers always run the risk of hiring someone illegally.
It’s clear that our immigration system needs reform – even an incremental approach that tackles one aspect at a time. It makes the most sense to address the issue of jobs first, not only because farmers and other employers need a clear path forward, but because it will immediately slow the stream of people trying to come here illegally.
By using a national E-Verify system and streamlining the guest worker program, we will be able to determine more easily who is eligible to work in this country and then be able to fill positions from outside our borders more effectively. If a person knows that illegal entry into the United States will not have the benefit of an under-the-table job, he or she is far less likely to try to slip across the border. It is my hope that by moving employment verification and a cleanup of the guest worker program to the top of the priority list, we will be able to ease the challenges at the border as well.
Immigration reform has been mired in politics for far too long. Last year the Senate passed a bill that goes further than House members can agree to, and it seems as if the two chambers have stopped trying to work out their differences.
It’s a shame that an issue like immigration reform has not been elevated above the bickering, since there are benefits for every person in this country and virtually every business interest.
I urge my fellow Californians to encourage members of the California delegation to take a leadership role in moving key aspects of immigration reform forward this year.
Paul Wenger is president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.