Now is the Time to Address Immigration Reform

The views presented in these blogs are those of the authors.

In late January, the House leadership issued principles to guide their work on immigration reform.

As producers, we applaud this step to begin working on immigration, and we were glad to see the document specifically note the labor challenges facing agriculture in the absence of reform.

Whether you grow fruits and vegetables or raise livestock, producing safe and affordable food for American consumers depends on having reliable workers. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. growers surveyed by the government in 2011 said they faced harvest or packing labor shortages. According to the American Farm Bureau, employers reported more than $300 million in losses in 2010 because of worker shortages. If this trend continues, American farmers and ranchers will become less and less competitive and more and more of what we eat will be grown outside the United States.

Our broken immigration system isn’t just a problem for farmers and ranchers. All segments of American business, from high tech industries to manufacturing, are feeling its impact and are appealing to Congress for action. Reform is good for the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by 5.4 percent ($1.2 trillion) over the next 20 years.

That is why we were encouraged by the House leaders’ announcement of immigration standards. Those standards include a commitment to a temporary worker program that ensures a legal work force. Of the approximately two million agricultural workers in the U.S., it is estimated that at least half are undocumented immigrants.

Standards are not legislation, but they give us hope that a solution through compromise and negotiation is possible.

Early in our deliberations about the future of food and agriculture, the very diverse AGree Advisory Committee identified immigration reform as critical to the resiliency of American agriculture. The time-sensitive nature of many farm, ranch, dairy, and custom harvesting operations and the uncertainty created by the present system make immigration reform vital to agriculture, rural communities and to the U.S. as a whole. AGree convened an important meeting on this issue in 2012 and adopted principles that will serve the interests of both producers and workers:

  • Develop a practical and economically viable program that allows employers to hire legal foreign workers and protects foreign and U.S. farm workers;
  • Ensure quality of life, good working conditions, and opportunities for food and agriculture workers; and
  • Provide more opportunities for farm workers to develop skills and advance their careers within the food and agriculture sector.

As advisors with AGree, and as long time agricultural employers, we support the comprehensive approach reflected in the bipartisan Senate-passed bill. Any forward movement on immigration policy in the House is a welcome development because until this problem is overcome, America’s food and agricultural producers face an uncertain future.

Judith Redmond and her partners own Full Belly Farm in northern California. They grow a diverse assortment of fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Pat O’Toole and his family raise cows, sheep and horses at Ladder Livestock, a six generation ranch along the Wyoming-Colorado border.