Ag Today June 25, 2018

California farmers prod Congress on immigration reform

BY JOHN COX jcox@bakersfield.com Jun 22, 2018

This week’s failure by Congress to pass either of two immigration reform bills has prompted California’s leading agricultural trade group to reiterate, in polite terms, its longstanding demands for a solution to the state’s chronic shortage of farmworkers.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson on Thursday issued a statement on the group’s behalf calling for an agricultural visa program large enough to accommodate the state’s farmworker needs, as well as recognition for “current, highly skilled immigrant employees and help them gain proper documentation.”

However mildly worded, the public missive on one of the nation’s most divisive political debates reflects farmers’ growing frustration with labor costs that have been rising, in part, because of fallout from President Trump’s immigration crackdown.

Following months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with members of Congress, the nearly 40,000-member farm bureau federation spoke up after the defeat of a hard-line bill sponsored by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. It failed by a vote of 193-231, with 41 Republican votes in opposition. No Democrats voted to support it.

The measure would have slashed legal immigration, gone after so-called sanctuary cities, increased border security and forced employers to use an electronic system verifying workers’ legal status.

The bill also included a “touch-back” provision some see as a poison pill for California farming. It is a requirement that guest workers return to their native countries for 45 consecutive days during the course of a year. Unlike in many other states, California farmers harvest year-round, and farmworkers here have generally settled locally and have no other home.

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