All Parties 'Comfortable' With Ag Immigration Proposal

AWC, UFW leaders express gratitude to Senate "gang of eight" for strong immigration proposal with special provisions for farm employers

Published on: Apr 18, 2013

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition Wednesday came out in support of the Senate "gang of eight" immigration proposal, released in the early morning hours of April 16.

The group, comprised of representatives from several farm and agriculture organizations, said the proposal was an "important balance of interests" and it was a welcome next step.

"We had different goals from the beginning, and perhaps there were different goals from the Senators who were so instrumental in pulling this together, but we all had a recognition that the status quo was totally unacceptable," Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the Nation Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said during a press call.

AWC, UFW leaders express gratitude to Senate "gang of eight" for strong immigration proposal with special provisions for farm employers
AWC, UFW leaders express gratitude to Senate "gang of eight" for strong immigration proposal with special provisions for farm employers

Joining in the discussion, Arturo Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers, added that the proposal "took lots of discussion" but his group is "comfortable" with what Senators, employers and employees have arrived at.

The AWC and UFW garnered a deal with Senators Friday, ensuring that both ag groups – who largely represent employers and employees, respectively – were satisfied with the provisions in the Senate's latest proposal.

The compromise was led by Sens. Rubio, Bennet, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Among the key policy priorities of the agriculture industry are a comprehensive work visa program, a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., and a separate process towards legalization and citizenship for farm workers – all of which the Senate proposal contained.

President Obama, too, welcomed the proposal.

"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me," the President said in a statement. "But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform."

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A summary of the proposal was released Tuesday ahead of the official Senate introduction Wednesday morning, in which provisions such as the "W-Visa" program and the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act were outlined.

Additionally, ag employers will be at the "back of the line" for implementation of the e-verify system, which uses an internet database to determine employment eligibility. Leaders say the Senators' proposal allows the "maximum time" for new ag provisions to be completely functional before e-verify is added to the mix.

Also a key issue for ag employers is the dwindling number of employees able to fill open positions. To address the situation, the proposal allows for a flexible cap on the number of workers that can enter the U.S. for agricultural work, based on need. The USDA Secretary will be responsible for adjusting the cap.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., are among the Congress members active in crafting the draft legislation.

AWC and UFW officials say they are beginning to discuss a similar plan with House members, though they declined to say specifically with who or when a plan will be negotiated.

"There is a long way to go with this legislation," said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association. "But we are committed. We are going to bring the weight of growers throughout all 50 states to the Senate and to the House in support of the legislation."