Thursday, January 31, 2013
When a bipartisan team of U.S. senators published their proposed framework for comprehensive immigration reform on Monday, there was a loud chorus of voices weighing in optimistically – agriculture industry reps and immigrants’ rights advocates among them.
That framework, albeit vague, was heralded by President Barack Obama in a speech Tuesday urging Congress to take action on immigration.
This is heartening ag industry leaders, who want a resolution to their mostly undocumented workforce. The bipartisan framework includes two specific mentions of ag, one offering up a path to citizenship through a new seasonal worker program.
But Central Labor Council Director Cesar Lara isn’t enthusiastic about ag-specific rules. “Agriculture locally is hurting for workers,” he says. “They could face that by raising salaries and benefits, but instead they want to bring in braceros, basically.”
Lara and Arnulfo De La Cruz, California director for the Phoenix-based nonprofit Mi Familia Vota, are organizing dozens of local labor and youth group reps around immigration reform, with a strategy meeting on Jan. 31 in Salinas at the Center for Change. They’ll likely start by applying pressure to local elected officials to voice support for comprehensive reform.
De La Cruz says Mi Familia would prefer an omnibus bill to a piecemeal solution, though he says the group doesn’t have an official position on AgJOBS specifically.
U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, plans to reintroduce AgJOBS this year, a bill that many ag industry leaders and labor groups agreed to in the past. “Any package to fix our broken immigration system must include provisions that ensure growers can continue to hire the workers they need,” Farr says by email.
The ag industry is forming coalitions of its own; the latest, Agriculture Workforce Coalition, includes the Grower-Shipper Association and Farm Bureau.
Industry reps see ag-specific rules as essential to crafting immigration reform that works. Grower-Shipper Association President Jim Bogart says a guest worker program would create a needed safety net. “The workforce we have here now just hasn’t been sufficient to address our labor needs,” he says. “Domestic workers seem unable or unwilling to perform these jobs, so we’re looking for sources to fill those labor needs.”
De La Cruz thinks a seasonal worker program could be acceptable, with some conditions: “They have full rights to organize and the full rights that all American workers receive,” he says.