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View From the Hill: Waiting on an immigration deal

By Lance Waybright, National Grange Intern (View From The Hill Blog 4/10/13)

  APRIL 10, 2013 --

The Senate has recently announced their intention to release much-anticipated immigration legislation this week. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Gang of 8, stated that he’s pleased with the cooperation and deal making between labor unions and business groups. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) aired on the side of caution but like Rubio, he expressed his optimism that a deal this week would be likely.

The legislation that could soon become law fosters a new type of worker visa program. The new worker visa would be separate from the classic H-2A program which has many H-2A employers grumbling over its complexities. The “W” visa worker program would allow thousands of new low-skilled individuals into the States. Immigration under the W program would cap entrants at 200,000 annually; however, the specific number varies depending on national unemployment rates and other related economic statistics.

Director of the Immigration Policy Center, Mary Giovagnoli, calls the Senate’s tentative deal-making a political breakthrough. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that lawmakers MUST fix the guest-worker program, as it’s an essential part to overall immigration reform.

However, not everyone is excited. Although encouraged by the news, the American Farm Bureau Federation insists that agriculture is unique from other industries employing immigrants and should be treated as such when drafting legislation. In fact, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition has been working alongside U.S. Senators, crafting legislation that would be more useful to agribusinesses that employ immigrants. It is currently estimated that nearly 60% of ag workers are undocumented immigrants.

Although the W program isn’t a farm worker program, many agriculture stakeholders are optimistic that a farm worker program could be implemented into the overall immigration reform legislation. The H-2A program hasn’t been satisfying the labor needs of many U.S. agribusinesses and immigrant employers are emphasizing the need for a new farm worker program, rather than revamping the already inadequate H-2A program.

Hopefully, we’ll have a better idea of where negotiations will begin by the end of this week. To be continued…

-Lance Waybright
National Grange Intern

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