It’s been attempted for decades, but the International Fresh Produce Association’s BB #:378962 government relations group is cautiously optimistic for a bipartisan solution to the immigration crisis with relations to agriculture.
During a webinar August 15, IFPA Director of Workforce/Labor John Hollay said the main focus of the produce industry’s persuasion should be on Republican Senators, so that the total number of votes could reach 60 to pass in the Senate without a filibuster.
The House of Representatives already passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, mainly on party lines, and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) are working to get enough votes to pass it in their chamber.
Hollay said the legislation would legalize the undocumented agriculture workforce, expand H-2A guest worker visas, and make E-verify mandatory.
He said he knows Republicans are not eager to talk about immigration reform issues ahead of the November mid-term elections, but if it could be framed as border security, it has a better chance.
“We believe it improves the border situation with security,” Hollay said.
He also said if nothing passes before the election, it’s possible for something between the election and next Congress, in the lame duck session, especially considering that we don’t know which party will control each of the houses in 2023.
One issue that has complicated matters this year is a USDA plan to invest $65 million in a pilot program to strengthen the food supply chain and improve working conditions for farmworkers.
On its face, it looks inoffensive, but USDA is partnering with the United Farm Workers of America, an organization that most of the agriculture industry considers its enemy.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” Hollay said. “[The UFW] trash H-2A. USDA says they want to engage stakeholders, but I haven’t seen that yet.”
Earlier this summer, a group of Republican Senators and Representatives sent a letter to Ag Sec. Tom Vilsack, calling UFW an openly partisan organization with a long history of lobbying for anti-business issues, and calling H-2A “modern day slavery.”
Hollay said produce industry members need to contact their Senators and Representatives telling them of their labor struggles and urging them to help.
He said immigration reform will be on the agenda for the upcoming Washington Conference, which he expects to be one of the largest ever.