Trump speech moderate but not reassuring to rural America
March 1, 2017
In a speech to Congress Feb. 28, President Donald Trump adopted a moderate tone, calling on Congress to join Americans in uniting to achieve his goals.
His speech did not mention rural America, and his remarks on immigration could be considered a signal that the administration does not understand the importance of undocumented farm workers to the U.S. economy.
In a discussion of immigration, Trump proposed "switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system." Although farm and labor leaders have suggested that farm work done by immigrants requires more skills than is generally recognized, such work is classified as unskilled.
"Tonight, the president called for the country to unite, and I couldn't agree more," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. "Our country works best when we work together on real results for the American people. It's past time to put politics aside and work on policy."
"It was encouraging to see Republicans stand up for proposals that they haven't traditionally been supportive of, including paid family leave – which I have a bill on – and an infrastructure package which we recently introduced that will support the whole country, including rural America," Heitkamp said.
But, she noted, "I expressed concerns when our previous president didn't talk about rural America, and I had the same concerns with this speech. There wasn't a mention of rural America, a farm bill, or agriculture workers, and these should be focuses for any leader of our country."
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National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson also noted that Trump "failed to mention the words 'rural,' 'farm,' or 'agriculture,'" yet touched on a myriad of policy issues that could have major impacts on family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
"For instance, the president plans to revitalize the American economy and support the creation of jobs by renewing our nation's trade agenda," Johnson said. "While his focus on improving trade agreements is appreciated, our members are increasingly concerned about his earlier harsh rhetoric and the strain it has placed on our trading partners.
"Trump's plan to switch away from the 'current system of lower-skilled immigration' neglects the unique and important work that immigrant laborers provide for our nation's food system and rural economies," he continued. "And Trump's proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act must ensure affordable access to health insurance for rural Americans, especially for family farmers who cannot be part of large plans."
"If the president intends to be a champion for all Americans, he must consider the real and lasting impacts his policy agenda will have on rural America and family farmers and ranchers," he said.