“The guest worker issue is, unfortunately, caught up with immigration reform.” He said the Bracero program worked well. (The Bracero program was initiated in August 1942 to bring in temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. The program continued in agriculture until 1964.)

“A significant number of agriculture workers now are here illegally.” He also noted that legislation such as “show me your papers” may “create panic so that workers stay home, even some that are legal.”

States need to consider other options, he said. “Utah has a state-run guest worker program. States need permission from the federal government to enact such a program.” Hinojosa intends to introduce a bill for a guest worker program for Texas at the next legislative session (The Texas legislature meets every two years.). “We need more flexibility to run a program as needed.”

Hinojosa is not a fan of E-Verify, a system of electronic verification of a worker’s legal status. “It’s easy to defraud the system,” he said. He also said that verifying children’s status in schools “scares parents and keeps them from sending their children to school. That goes against our constitution,” he said. “Every child needs to be educated.”

The H-2A (a program to bring workers into the United States legally) is “too complicated,” to be effective for ag employers. And he reiterated that American workers will not do the back-breaking work required in agriculture.

Hinojosa said many immigrant farm workers’ children also will not follow their parents into the fields. “Many become doctors, teachers and professionals. Education is the key,” he said.

He recalls a day in the Valley, picking cotton, and looking from one end of a row to the other and thinking: “There has to be a better way than this.”

Education was his way to a better life.

He said the United States “can’t do much about the number of undocumented persons already in the country, but we need to take the word amnesty out of the conversation. It’s a red flag. But we do need reform.”

Serious problems exist on the border, Hinojosa said, including human smuggling and kidnapping. He said laws should address those with the focus on “coyotes” who bring in illegal aliens for high fees instead of those who try to bring in family members. He also pointed out that: “Some Mexican nationals buy residency. Some are with the cartels and some of them live in the Valley. It’s a serious problem.”

Hinojosa said the agriculture industry must “get involved. Talk to legislators and educate them. We don’t want fruit and vegetable production moved to other countries. We will be at their mercy.”

rsmith@farmpress.com