What is in this article?:
- Labor remains a contentious issue for agriculture
- Second term issue
• With a new season approaching, sharp divisions between parties in Congress, along with politicians’ reluctance to alienate ever more important Hispanic voters, leaves growers worried about harvest labor in an unsettled position.
• Attendees at the annual meeting of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) in Naples heard that a workable solution to the immigration dilemma remains out of reach for Washington D.C., policy makers.
Marco Palma, Texas A&M, and John VanSickle, University of Florida, visit with FFVA members during a break at the annual convention.
With quick political answers unlikely, immigration issues will likely dog Florida’s agricultural producers for quite some time.
With a new season approaching, sharp divisions between parties in Congress, along with politicians’ reluctance to alienate ever more important Hispanic voters, leaves growers worried about harvest labor in an unsettled position.
Attendees at the annual meeting of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) in Naples heard that a workable solution to the immigration dilemma remains out of reach for Washington D.C., policy makers.
“It’s hard to see a way forward where we’re going to have a certainty of a legal workforce. It’s very frustrating,” Adam Putnam, Florida agriculture commissioner said.
“From a labor standpoint, I just don’t see much good going on out there. We need a single smart national immigration policy — not 50 not-so-smart policies. But that’s where we’re headed.”
Craig Regelbrugge, the American Nursery & Landscape Association’s vice president for government relations and research, spoke about the immigration problem at a general session, noting widespread confusion and disagreement about the issue.
“We need a 21st century program with a new visa specific to ag work, and probably longer visa terms,” he says.
“It probably needs to be portable so it belongs to the worker. That worker then could move among employers.”
The idea is popular with some policy-makers, which
Regelbrugge finds encouraging.
“It is very important that we get the details right,” he says. “We cannot solve the problem without dealing with the current work force. There’s no other way to do it, logistically.”
Workers who have been in the U.S. for a long period of time, with families and community ties, may need a different solution than more recent illegal immigrants, he says.
Regelbrugge thinks a program tying agricultural workers with well-educated high-tech workers and people without legal documents who were brought to the U.S. at a young age by parents could be beneficial to agriculture.
“There is a debate now going on in Congress with a competing vision on how to provide visas for smart people — advanced degree graduates. At the end of the day, we’ve got to press the point that, yes, we need those skilled workers, and we also need farm workers. We need both ends of the economic spectrum.
“Even though we need those smart people in high-tech jobs, we have to remember that this nation was built on the labor of people at the other end of the spectrum, but our immigration process no longer allows it,” he says.
Little will be accomplished on labor policy during the congressional lame duck session, Regelbrugge predicts.
“If you look at the list of issues before them — like passing a farm bill, which they can’t even agree on — it’s hard to get terribly excited about the path for immigration reform in the lame duck session,” he says.
“Some believe that getting something done in the first 60 days to 80 days of 2013 is a possibility. It is obviously going to be shaped by who comes out on top in the election.”
Extremists from either end of the political spectrum will do little to advance a solution, he says, noting that agriculture will be best served by centrist policies.
“Our job has always been to find ar easoned middle and build out,” he says. “That’s what we have to do, which is why no one of us will get exactly what we want.”
Regelbrugge made certain to show that his sentiments, complete with visual illustrations, lie with the Republican Party during this election season. If President Obama wins re-election, he will pursue immigration reform, he says.