Jim Moseley and A.G. Kawamura: Farmers, ranchers need immigration reform

06/24/2014 12:00 AM

06/23/2014 5:28 PM

We are farmers who raise different types of crops in different regions of our country. Like all farmers, we have lived through difficult periods when bad weather, low prices or weak demand had us doubting we would survive. Whether organic or conventional producers, we all seek the same result – a good harvest and robust markets for our crops.

But 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.

An unwillingness to consider any type of immigration 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. Our current situation is an embarrassment, and failing to act hurts everyone.

Failure to act hurts farmworkers: 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.

Failure to act hurts farmers and ranchers: Without enough workers, farms and ranches are gradually shrinking, and as a result, farm production is moving overseas. A 2012 survey by the California Farm Bureau in that state alone found that 71 percent of tree fruit growers and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers could not find enough workers for their production needs.

Failure to act hurts our economy: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate immigration reform bill will increase real gross domestic product 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.

Failure to act is untenable for our future as a nation: In the next 20 years, 79 million baby-boomer generation Americans will leave the workforce to be replaced by fewer than 50 million Gen Xers and millennials. We simply cannot sustain economic growth, meet our workforce needs, or protect Social Security and Medicare without addressing immigration reform now.

AGree, a food and agriculture policy organization, was launched three years ago to identify and respond to the challenges facing global agriculture. Immigration reform was the first issue on which this very diverse group reached consensus.

We believe our principles serve the interests of producers, workers and the public:

•  Develop a practical and economically viable program that allows employers to hire legal foreign workers and protects foreign and U.S. farmworkers.
•  Ensure quality of life, good working conditions, and opportunities for food and agriculture workers.
•  Provide more opportunities for farmworkers to develop skills and advance their careers within the food and agriculture sector.

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 farm workforce, because of an unworkable immigration policy, are 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.

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