Marcos Breton

Connecting the dots on issues, people and news in the Sacramento region

Marcos Breton: Immigration reform failure would hurt California and GOP, official says

06/19/2013 12:00 AM

11/13/2013 8:27 AM

From a Sacramento office where he sits as president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, Paul Wenger is a key figure in the national immigration reform debate.

A business-oriented Republican, Wenger is spending his days lobbying ideologues in his own party as immigration reform comes to a head in Congress.

If House GOP members block reform, it wouldn't just be bad for California business, Wegner warns – it would benefit Democrats for years to come.

"Let's quit talking about amnesty," Wenger said, bluntly addressing the chief issue employed by anti-immigration hawks.

Some remember the 1986 immigration reform act, which granted "amnesty" for the undocumented but didn't prevent the wave of immigration that followed.

Wenger is one of a growing number of business leaders, evangelical Christians and others who argue that 2013 is not 1986.

Immigration flows are at all-time lows while the government has fortified the U.S.-Mexico border like never before.

Wenger also argues that there are economic reasons for fixing a system that doesn't apportion enough work visas to suit California farm labor needs.

A bipartisan immigration reform bill before the U.S. Senate would provide 337,000 visas for foreign farm workers.

If these workers don't break any laws, they become eligible for permanent legal residency in five years.

The hope is that farmers would get the workers they need, while the workers would be free from the exploitation endemic to undocumented life.

"We're not displacing American workers," Wenger said. "Let's get past this."

On Tuesday, we heard again why Wenger is right.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report stating that immigration reform would decrease the federal deficit by $197 billion over 10 years.

How? The CBO estimates that an immigration-fueled increase of the U.S. population by 10 million people would generate an additional $459 billion in income and payroll taxes.

Yet immigration is still being used as a political wedge issue.

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday he would not allow immigration reform to come to a vote without majority support from the GOP caucus.

That support is far from certain.

But if you support locally grown food, you should support immigration reform because locally grown crops are hand-picked.

If you support a legal work force, you should support immigration reform because it would provide farmers just that.

Call your congressional representative.

"We're closer than we've been since 1986," Wenger said. "But if nothing happens (this summer), it could be six or seven years before something happens again."

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/breton. Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.

About This Blog

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton, and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a native of Northern California and the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Contact Marcos Breton at mbreton@sacbee.com or 916-321-1096.
Twitter: @MarcosBreton
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