As for political support and the manner the legislation will be handled, the program advocates — obviously reticent to upset any lawmakers — were unwilling to speculate much.

“In past efforts to pass immigration reform, agriculture hasn’t always been united,” Conner allowed. “That’s a completely different picture this time…

“There will certainly be a number of members of the Senate and, perhaps, even more in the House that may look askance at some of the issues included in this bill. I think they are going to listen to us, though.

“This is a crisis in American agriculture, a crisis for all of us in production. It’s also a crisis for the workers and for the consumers who expect us to be able to deliver American fruits and vegetables or dairy products.

“For those in the Senate who may not instinctively be on board, we believe agriculture will be a key to passing broad immigration reform. If you look at where the politics are, it will be people in this room who really make the difference with some of the swing votes.”

Reaching agreement on the legislation required, “an act of compromise on virtually every issue we discussed,” said Conner. “This problem has been festering for 30 years. The (coalition) was willing to make those necessary compromises (as were the other entities involved).”

“The very fact we’re here today jointly sends a strong message as to the way we all look at this,” said Rodriguez.

Queried on immigration reform opponents’ demands that U.S. borders be properly closed before the plan is fully enacted, Conner wouldn’t take the bait. The coalition, he insisted, stuck strictly to agricultural issues during negotiations. “We weren’t in any way, either directly or indirectly, engaged in the broader, comprehensive debate — and border security is a huge component of that. That isn’t a track we ran on.”

“We’ve seen the border closing for the past five to 10 years,” added Stenzel. “We’re not seeing an increased flow — or even a flow that stays current – in terms of more undocumented workers coming into the United States. How Congress will determine border security, what standards they’ll put forward, is beyond us.”

What would the Department of Labor’s role be in under the legislation?

The DOL, “will continue to have responsibility for workplace enforcement under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act,” said Stuart. “That doesn’t change under the agreement.”

Further, the Department of Homeland Security would have a role, “in terms of granting the visas. So, there will be three agencies that continue to be involved. But (the USDA) would have the primary responsibility for the administration of the program.” 

dbennett@farmpress.com

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