Ag leaders upset by Trump immigration proposal, no guestworker markup
Agriculture leaders are upset by President Donald Trump’s announcement that the administration wants to require e-verification of workers without a new proposal to bring in farm workers, and by the cancellation by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., of the markup of the Ag Guestworker bill that was planned for Oct. 4.
The White House on Oct. 8 announced an immigration agenda that includes Congress paying for the border wall and implementing the e-verify program for all workers in the United States. The White House did not mention agriculture’s need for workers.
The White House proposal appears to be the Trump administration’s demands if there is to be a deal with Congress to address the future of the 800,000 young people who have been allowed to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) system established by the Obama administration. Critics have said the administration’s demands may mean there may be no DACA deal.
Goodlatte said, “The Trump administration has put forth a serious proposal to address the enforcement of our immigration laws and border security. Many of these policies have been included in legislation passed by the House Judiciary Committee. As a member of the speaker’s working group on immigration, we will take time to review the administration’s priorities and consider their implications for our immigration system and the rule of law.
“One thing is clear, however: we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place,” Goodlatte said.
But Robert Guenther, the senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said in an email, “The last several day’s actions including the cancellation of the markup in the House Judiciary Committee and the White House’s announcement on tough immigration enforcement measures has sent concerns throughout the entire agriculture community who are dependent on a workforce that is not sustainable with domestic workers.”
Guenther added, “Therefore, we will continue to look for leaders in Congress and those individuals in the administration that support rural America to ensure that any immigration reform package that goes through Congress include a process to transition the current workforce into legal status and bring these individuals out of the shadows.”
“Any reforms also need to create a new workable agriculture guestworker program that allows the flow of a workforce that wants to work in the United States but also invest back in their own countries,” he said. “Chairman Goodlatte’s legislation is a move in the right direction on both of those fronts.”
Guenther concluded, “Finally, it is time for the agriculture leaders in this country and elected individuals in the Washington to realize that no farm bill, tax reform, regulatory reform, trade modernization, or infrastructure investment are going to soften the impact on not addressing agriculture immigration reform, period.”
Another agricultural leader who declined to be identified by name said he believes the markup was canceled because the Republicans did not have the votes to pass the ag guestworker bill.
Noting that the House Judiciary Committee is “as polarized” as a committee gets, Goodlatte could not afford to lose many votes, the source said.
Some hardline Republicans probably objected to the bill’s provisions that called for unauthorized workers to self-deport and come back. The bill also allowed employers to petition to bring back some current workers, a provision to which some conservatives may have objected.
Finally, some union leaders may have objected to the inclusion of meat, poultry and seafood processing jobs and some forestry and aquaculture jobs in the bill. Those jobs typically pay higher than production agriculture and have some union presence, the source added.
Surveys have shown there are about 2 million unauthorized farm workers in the country, half of whom have been in the United States an average of 14 years, the source said. If those workers self-deported or were forced out of the country, it would be impossible to find a new set of workers to come to the United States to replace them, the source added.
The attempt to find a solution to DACA has added to the intensity of the atmosphere surrounding immigration, and Republicans who are worried about how voters will react to likely votes on DACA may not want to have any more votes on immigration on their records, he said.
But there is also a view that the tough proposal announced Oct. 7 was the work of White House staff, principally Stephen Miller, and that Trump could put aside some parts of the proposal in negotiations, the source concluded. ❖