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Next Generation Farming

In Kansas, GOP Failing on Immigration

Agriculture will take a big hit without decent reform measures.

With the primaries over, it's obvious what one of the election's most sensitive issues will be this fall: immigration.

Here in Kansas, the leading candidate for the U.S. Senate embraced the idea of building a fence along the Mexican border and assigning National Guard troops to patrol the parameter. Not to be outdone, his opponent suggested building not just one fence, but two fences with a road in between.

I suppose the purpose of the road is to control immigration by increasing traffic fatalities?

Another candidate for Kansas secretary of state ran on the fear-inducing slogan "Stop Voter Fraud," with the anti-immigration overtones hard to ignore - especially since the candidate helped draft the controversial immigration policy in Arizona.

What is puzzling is that Kansas doesn't have a problem with voter fraud, let alone one with illegal immigrants.

Nonetheless, he was more than happy to capitalize on fear of immigrants, and voters rewarded him with a sweeping majority.

Yet another candidate for Congress warned that if we didn't secure our border with Mexico, we'll be under attack by Hezbollah and Hamas.

Hezbollah and Hamas? Attacking Kansas? I'm still trying to figure that one out.  

All of this in a state that doesn't even share a border with Mexico. Not only that, the heat of the discussion on how to stop immigration occurred almost exclusively in the confines of the Republican primary.

I'm all for a secure border, but this is getting ridiculous. The GOP has marched so far to the right that a sensible solution that works for the U.S. and agriculture is almost impossible to find in the party.

Persuasive power of fear With the Kansas economy relying heavily on agriculture, deciding on a proper course for legalizing current illegal immigrants and changing the immigration process to allow more workers to apply through legal means should be a no-brainer. But once again, candidates are jumping on the bandwagon and fueling their campaigns on the persuasive power of fear.

The reasons to accommodate current immigrants and to allow a higher quota of visas in the future are obvious. If we were to round up and deport every illegal immigrant in the U.S. – about 11 million – our economy would take a $2.6 trillion hit over a 10-year period, according to the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.

I'm willing to bet most of that hit would come from agriculture.

Increasing the quota of visas is also critical for a long-term solution. Even in the bowels of the worst recession in decades and with national unemployment running at 9.5%, farms still cannot met their labor needs and are having to go abroad to find workers.

To help alleviate that problem, the United Farm Workers Union of America recently launched a campaign on their Web site offering legal citizens a half-million jobs in the farming industry, but the response has been lukewarm. They've received about 4,000 applications since June, according to the Washington Post, with only a few dozen people following through with the process.

With low pay, no benefits and having to do backbreaking work in triple-digit heat, most Americans would simply rather wait out the recession and survive on unemployment checks or help from friends.

That leaves farms having to go abroad and import more labor.

But from the way the GOP candidates sound this year, they're not going to make that option an easy one. I've been a Republican for most of my voting career, but maybe its time to start looking elsewhere for meaningful solutions.

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