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Serving: MN
immigrant farm workers John Moore/Getty Images
LABOR FORCE: An estimated 2 to 3 million immigrant farm workers are in the U.S. The highest numbers are working in California, Texas and Washington.

Immigration: Where does ag industry stand?

Northstar Notes: Call lawmakers and get them moving on immigration reform.

Depending on your operation, immediate tasks at hand vying for your attention probably include hauling manure and preparing to plant.

Those chores need to be done soon, according to the calendar. If they aren’t, your 2019 growing season could be delayed.

You think ahead and get your job done.

Wish the same could be said for our lawmakers.

One major issue that really should not be ignored any longer is what to do with immigration policy specific to farm labor. That element often gets lost in the larger immigration debate.

A quick online search led me to an interesting commentary appearing Feb. 12 in the Los Angeles Times. It was written by Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He noted that farming’s labor system is broken and needs fixing. He noted that farms need seasonal and full-time employees who come from other countries. The challenge, however, is how to have them here legally to do the work.

“The law tells farmers not to question a job applicant’s papers unless they are obviously false,” Duvall wrote. “If a farmer questions a worker about his or her name, Social Security number or green card, the farmer is open to a lawsuit by the worker or even the U.S. Justice Department.

“Mandating E-Verify for agriculture without an expanded guest worker program would make the situation worse. Instead it would decimate the existing agricultural workforce without providing any workers to take their place.

“These realities — a dearth of Americans who want to work on farms, people from outside the U.S. who do want to work on farms, and a law that virtually compels farmers to hire workers who are in the country illegally — give us the situation we have today.”

Duvall said AFBF supports H.R. 641 proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. Known as the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019, the bill, if passed, would provide a pathway to legalization for agricultural workers who are already here. However, Duvall noted that this bill isn‘t enough.

“U.S. agriculture needs a guest worker program that will help us replace the workers covered by the Lofgren bill as they age out or move to other sectors of the economy,” he wrote. “The current H-2A program, which is supposed to assist farmers and ranchers, too often falls short in meeting growers’ or workers’ needs. California growers traditionally don’t employ their workers through such arrangements. As a result, although H-2A is expanding in California, it still represents a small portion of the workforce.”

Duvall said the guest worker program must work for all growers in all states and be flexible for growers in California.

The National Farmers Union agrees that the broken immigration system needs fixing at the federal level. The union supports adoption of a mandatory E-Verify program only in conjunction with a coherent and viably effective agricultural worker program.

“The E-Verify system must allow communication among federal agencies for determining status in order to protect the integrity of the worker and of the employer,” according to NFU’s position statement on immigration.

NFU also supports improvements to the H-2A program to make it more flexible and reliable.

“Immigration policies must provide a sensible path for those who are here without legal status, are of good character, pay taxes and are committed to becoming fully participating members of our society,” NFU said, adding that “the legalization of undocumented workers may occur after paying appropriate fines and incurring penalties for illegal entry.”

NFU also supports the DREAM Act and a fast track toward U.S. citizenship for immigrants of upstanding character who seek citizenship and serve with honor in a branch of the U.S. military service.

Come next fall, there might not be enough farm labor available to harvest crops in parts of the U.S.

Call your legislators and tell them it’s time to lead and get their job done with immigration reform.

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