Monday, June 03, 2013

AGree policy initiative encourages comprehensive immigration reform

The co-chairs of the AGree agricultural policy initiative today sent a letter to U.S. Senators encouraging comprehensive immigration reform.

Dan Glickman (former Secretary of Agriculture under the Clinton administration), Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farm), Jim Moseley (former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture under the Bush administration), and Emmy Simmons (former senior U.S. international aid official) wrote:
We applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee’s leadership in moving forward on the bipartisan legislation. This presents a huge opportunity for foreign-born agricultural workers who want to build a better future for themselves and their families and for American farmers and ranchers struggling with serious labor shortages. AGree has initiated and supported efforts to overcome volatile and divisive differences that have doomed past reform efforts and we will continue to use our convening powers and work in tandem with other groups to help achieve a new national immigration policy.
AGree has four principles for immigration policy reform.  These principles seem politically astute, including key themes that one hears both from agricultural producer groups and from immigrant labor advocates:

  • Build a legal, more stable workforce in agriculture;
  • Develop a practical and economically viable guest worker 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.
The Senate legislation that the AGree co-chairs support is the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744.  It is very much a compromise piece of legislation.  This week is critical in the Senate, and, even after passing the Senate, the House is even more challenging.

From the perspective of immigrant labor advocates, farm producers and managers are a complicated group of allies.  On the one hand, farmers are a terrific helpful voice, because they speak of immigrant farm workers with respect, articulate the great value that the workers bring to the American agricultural economy, and oppose a deportation-centered immigration policy.

On the other hand, the farm groups insist on an awful tough stipulation in their support for a path to legal status for illegal workers.  The farm groups insist that newly legalized workers be prohibited from moving quickly into non-farm jobs such as construction or food service.  For the farmers, the whole point is that these newly legal workers should stay on the farm, keeping wages in check.

By and large, the Senate bill represents the best possible compromise that immigrant labor advocates could strike with farm groups, so that they could speak with one voice in the political debate.  If immigrant labor advocates and farm groups split, they will be soundly beaten by the anti-immigrant and nativist folks in Congress.

I participate in AGree as part of its Research Committee, but had no role in the organization's immigration position.  For a scholarly but highly readable account of the current issues, see Philip Martin's article (may be gated) in the January edition of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

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