Reforming immigration has been a priority for legislators for several years, but as Congress works on the 2018 farm bill it has become an increasingly important topic. The most recent attempt to address immigration was the AG Act from Congressman Bob Goodlatte, which would have created an H-2C program and required guest workers to periodically return to their country of origin. The bill was ultimately defeated, much to the satisfaction of several California ag groups who did not believe the program was a viable solution to the immigration issue.
“Why would the legislature want to give us an agricultural labor bill that doesn’t add labor to our workforce but detracts and diminishes the labor supply we have in this country?” asked President and CEO of Western Growers Tom Nassif.
The state’s agricultural industry understands the need for reforming immigration, particularly as it relates to the ag workforce, but there are considerable issues that are specific to California. Nassif referenced the cost of land in California being a significant challenge, along with obtaining the appropriate zoning needed to build the necessary housing required by the federal H-2A temporary farmworker program.
While the AG Act contained certain provisions that were opposed, the required use of the E-Verify system actually received varying degrees of support from industry groups. “We support E-Verify. We think it’s a valid tool because all we want are legal workers in the United States, not illegal workers,” said Nassif.
The current political atmosphere is not very conducive for instituting a spirit of cooperation between legislators in Washington, who are already up against a September 30 deadline for establishing a farm bill. With the defeat of the AG Act, work will continue in the pursuit of fair and equitable immigration reform legislation.
“What we’ve always asked of the administration is give us some protection for our workforce. They’ve been loyal, they pay taxes, some of them own property, they’ve raised families, they’re good citizens. Do something to protect them so we have a trained workforce we can rely on,” said Nasiff. “Find a way to help these existing workers remain in agriculture and protect their families so that they can do for our industry what they’ve done in the past, that’s all we’re asking.”
Listen to Nassif’s interview below.