Senate passes dairy-friendly immigration reform bill
The Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform measure, June 27, that will help dairy farmers with their current and future workforce needs, and provide the entire agriculture sector with much-needed economic certainty, according to the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
“We’ve known for years that the status quo employment situation in dairy farming is not sustainable. Today, the Senate moved decisively past that admission, and voted to change our labor and immigration laws for the better,” said Jerry Kozak, NMPF president and CEO. “Rather than tinker with what wasn’t working, this new immigration measure builds something new and much better.”
The immigration reform measure, approved by a vote of 68-32 strengthens the border security apparatus to discourage the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. From the standpoint of farm employers, it creates an entirely new visa category for their workers, both current employees, and prospective new employers. This new visa system will be administered through USDA instead of the Department of Labor, making it easier for farmers and ranchers to access and use. It will also assure a future flow of new workers, so that as the economy evolves and jobs shift between sectors, farmers will have the means to recruit and hire new dairy workers.
“Dairy farmers have been concerned that their current workers might be overlooked by the reform efforts, but the Senate bill addresses that concern, by allowing currently employed, but undocumented, workers to maintain their jobs. This is a huge benefit, both to workers, and their employers,” Kozak said.
Kozak noted that regardless of the region of the country, many dairy farmers “face ongoing challenges finding a sufficient number of workers to care for and milk their cows. Securing a reliable and competent workforce for our nation’s farms and ranches is essential to ensuring that American consumers continue to enjoy dairy products on their grocery store shelves,” he said.
Kozak stressed that even with the Senate vote, much more work on immigration reform has to be done this year on Capitol Hill. Negotiations are continuing in the House of Representatives, which is working on a separate bill, and where broad support for a comprehensive immigration reform measure is less certain.
“The key is to demonstrate to a majority of the House that action is needed. The bill the House will consider is going to be different than this Senate bill, but the critical thing is that a bill addressing the needs of agriculture must be passed by the House. Inaction is not an option,” Kozak said.
Throughout the immigration reform process, NMPF has worked with other farm worker and farm employer organizations in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. To learn more about the AWC, visit www.agworkforcecoalition.com.
“The passing of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is the first step in reforming our broken immigration system and ensuring agriculture has access to a stable and legal workforce,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We look forward to working with members in the House of Representative to pass responsible immigration reform legislation that includes an earned adjustment for experienced undocumented agricultural workers and a new, flexible guestworker program. It is critical that both chambers pass legislation that can be reconciled in conference and signed into law.”
“A comprehensive agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and across all regions of our nation is long overdue,” Stallman said. “We commend the Senate for addressing this very important issue, which will help ensure the continued success of agriculture in our nation.
“America’s farmers and ranchers depend on the workers who show up every day to tend crops and raise livestock,” he continued. “The Senate-passed bill will help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor. It also provides increased surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders. One of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. With less time and resources wasted locking up lettuce harvesters, the focus can shift to where it properly belongs—keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country.”