Farmers need immigration reform

Posted Monday, Jun. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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We are farmers who raise different types of crops in different regions of our country.

We accept the unpredictability of weather and market demand, and we invest in new technologies such as water systems, mechanization and improved seeds to bring as much stability as possible to our operations.

Ironically, at just the time when demand is increasing, we are hamstrung by something over which we really should have more control: our nation’s labor supply.

Our current immigration system is widely considered broken and a drag on our country’s economic growth.

Only in America, the “land of plenty,” do you see unharvested crops spoil in the field due to a shortage of labor. To a farmer, this is the worst kind of waste to bear.

An unwillingness to consider any type of reform measure when the problem is so well known is irresponsible.

You would expect that complaints and calls for reform from groups as diverse as farmers, high-tech companies, law enforcement and religious leaders would trigger action.

Yet, a year after the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform, chances for the House to act this year look murky at best.

Skilled farmworkers deserve an opportunity to earn their way to a better future without the threat of deportation.

Surely, our Congress can come to an agreement on a market-based and flexible program that provides for a legal workforce into the future and an adjustment for current hardworking and experienced, yet unauthorized, agricultural workers.

Without enough workers, farms and ranches are gradually shrinking, and as a result, farm production is moving overseas.

This has grown to a nationwide issue affecting practically every state and includes fruit and vegetable producers, sheep ranchers, dairy and hog producers, large farmers that grow commodity grains and small farmers who need seasonal labor to offer their products at the local farmers market.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate immigration reform bill will increase real GDP relative to current law projections by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033 — an increase of roughly $700 billion in 2023 and $1.4 trillion in 2033 in today’s dollars.

While estimates differ, well-crafted immigration reform legislation will clearly have a positive impact on our economy.

The vital role of U.S. agriculture is widely ignored when our stomachs are full and abundance surrounds us. But the steady deterioration and vulnerability of our on farm workforce due to an unworkable immigration policy is putting our national food system and its economic and health benefits at risk — and in some cases in collapse. We need political leadership on immigration reform now.

Jim Moseley is an Indiana farmer and served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. A.G. Kawamura is a fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, Calif., and was California secretary of agriculture from 2003 to 2010.

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