Most of the immigration reform plans floated so far – including President Obama’s – make specific reference to the critical or “special” need to protect farm workers as part of the reform effort, and while most in agriculture praise the overall effort to deal with immigration reform, most are keeping their powder dry until legislative language is released.
General farm groups, fruit, vegetable and specialty crop groups whose industries rely heavily on seasonal workers have been in talks with the United Farm Workers union to find consensus on how ag workers will be treated in any comprehensive immigration reform legislation enacted by Congress. While those talks continue, other ag groups, including livestock and poultry producers, have pledged to work for reform.
The groups actively negotiating with the unions on how best to treat ag workers have formed the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) – which praised “bipartisan reform efforts which recognize agricultural provisions must be part of any agreement” – acknowledged the Gang of Eight Senators want the coalition to come to an agreement with the unions at least on major reform components.
One major area of contention is a push by farmers to scrap the seasonal worker H-2A visa program in favor a more inclusive system that would serve farms needing year-around employees, including poultry, dairy and other livestock operations, as well as crop and produce producers. About 55,000 H-2A visas were issued in 2011, according to reports. Union spokespeople said any agreement on replacing the visa program must afford workers “an opportunity to earn legal status in the future.”
Other members of AWC praising the reform efforts so far include the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), Western Growers, United Fresh Produce Assn. (UniFresh), and the National Restaurant Assn. (NRA).