Immigration Impasse Impact Troublesome for Ag

President Obama’s push to unilaterally change immigration system without Congress has agriculture industry concerned.

If Congress won’t act, the President will take matters into his own hands.

That’s the message President Barack Obama gave regarding immigration and the House Republican’s failure to act.  

For agriculture, the action resulting from the inactions is disappointing and again leaves a problem needing a solution.

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the House’s inaction squanders the best opportunity in a generation to fix a problem of critical importance to agriculture.

Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer at the National Milk Producers Federation, voiced frustration that partisan politics couldn’t be put aside to address the current dysfunctional immigration system. “The irony is that virtually everyone on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue admits the status quo is unacceptable; yet we seem destined to continue suffering from it, because common-sense reforms remain beyond our reach,” he said.

Conner warned executive action will only freeze in place the current dysfunctional state of affairs. “Farmers will continue to be unable to find the workers they need to pick crops or care for livestock; more food production will go overseas; local economies across the country will suffer; and the American consumer will ultimately pay more for the food they eat,” he said.  

Agriculture needs a legal, skilled and dependable workforce, and the House’s inaction fails to provide it.

I’ve heard House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say repeatedly that Republicans need to help fix the problem. Even Obama conceded that he believes Boehner when he said he wants to pass an immigration bill.

Obama tried to say he wasn’t giving up on working with House Republicans to deliver a more permanent solution.

“If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill; solve a problem. Don't just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done,” Obama challenged. “Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively. We’ll have a structure there that works, and it will be permanent. And people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law.” 

For agriculture, it’s a matter of trying to continue to push for the right solution, or at least a feasible solution for the time being. United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel said if the House continues to disregard its responsibility to address this issue, “the produce industry has no choice but to work with the Administration on short-term administrative patches that will be appreciated, but are ultimately unsatisfactory.”

Mulhern said NMPF would look for solutions for finding year-round workers under the current agricultural-visa system which applies now only to seasonal workers. The Wall Street Journal reported that NMPF could try to alleviate farmers’ worries about government raids and deportations by urging for administration actions. Question is, will that only fuel further criticisms on the lack of deporting undocumented immigrants?

Tom Nassif, Western Growers President and CEO, also reportedly said there isn’t talk yet of an agriculture-only bill, but it’s “certainly a possibility.”

Mulhern said immigration reform will happen. “The reality is that most major public policy controversies take multiple efforts, by a variety of stakeholders working together in common cause, to finally make things happen.”

For ag’s sake, let’s hope so.

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