Now that the US Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill satisfactory to agriculture – what is the House and particularly the California GOP delegation going to do?
The Senate passed the bill 68 to 32 this week (including 14 Republicans voting yes) – “ a big victory for California agriculture “says farmer advocate Manuel Cunha.
But what happens now in the House where the Farm Bill got throttled a week ago?
“I don’t know why the House Republicans want to do their own bill when 99% of agriculture backs the Senate version?” says Cunha.
Adding their voice to the notion has been the California Farm Bureau as well.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the bill passed by the Senate will help family farmers and ranchers address chronic problems in hiring an adequate, legal immigrant workforce.
“People who work on California farms make a big contribution to our state and its economy,” Wenger said. “It’s time we provide immigrant farm employees with a system that recognizes their contributions and permits them to work legally on our farms and ranches.”
Cunha has worked for years with all the players to get to this moment.
“We worked 80 hours a week for 9 months to get to this compromise that both farmers and farmworkers advocates including the UFW have agreed to.”
This week the UFW hailed the Senate bill saying “S. 744 is a truly bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that calls for a roadmap to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country.”
Cunha says House GOP representatives from the Valley Jeff Denham and Hanford congressman David Valadao have broken with their colleagues over a rival bill by GOP Rep Bob Goodlatte that does not back a roadmap to citizenship for unauthorized workers already here.
Cunha say he believes Denham and Valadao will back the Senate version but Bakersfield congressman and House leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep Devin Nunes from Tulare are indicating they may have problems with the Senate version.
“Nunes has told us he has problems with the wages and caps” says Cunha.
“But what we have repeated is that if agriculture can live with it why would you who represent us not back your constituency?”
Cunha says a recent paper by UC Davis professor Phil Martin points out that agriculture would immediately get “a legal workforce” and existing unauthorized workers who currently live here would get a blue card. Farmers would later get legal guest workers.
Secondly, Martin adds “costs should be stable since average hourly earnings in California are well above the minimum wage that must be paid to guest workers as of 2016. California crop workers got an average of $12.56 an hour in 2012” he says.
Martin believes the new law will offer California growers “advantages over farmers in lower-wage ares of the United States.”
“The capacity to hire legal guest workers for up to six years at $9.64 an hour with wage increases limited to 2.5% a year should make it easier to plan investments in labor-intensive agriculture and secure financing for them.”
Dairymen are behind the Senate version as well.
Western United Dairymen President Tom Barcellos said the bill will help California dairy farmers meet their labor needs. “This vote is a landmark step on the road to ensuring that California dairy families have access to a legal, skilled and stable workforce,” he said. “The provisions contained in the legislation not only address agriculture’s current undocumented workers, but would institute a new, market-based visa program to fix this issue once and for all going forward.” Barcellos thanked California Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her leadership on immigration reform. “Senator Feinstein has worked relentlessly over the past decade in pursuit of a workable solution for the farm labor situation. We very much appreciate her willingness to work closely with Western United Dairymen to address our industry’s unique needs all along the way.” Attention now turns to the House, where GOP leaders have indicated they will bring forward their own immigration reform legislation rather than consider the Senate bill. “It is important that the House consider a bill addressing the needs of agriculture. Inaction is not an option,” pointed out Barcellos. “We will be letting House members know the importance of this legislation to our dairy families.”
Local dairy farmer and Republican David Valadao sworn in this year as Kings County’s new representative in the 21st Congressional District seems to heading in this direction.
Rejecting a bill by House GOP leader Bob Goodlatte, Valadao wrote that “It is time to move forward, not backward. Congress must work together to find middle ground that benefits both the temporary guest workers as well as the agricultural employers. Final legislation must create incentives for farm workers to continue to work in the industry so that the United States can continue to feed the world. We believe in a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes earned legal status. This approach is critical for our country, our families, and our economy.”
Martin’s paper concludes that farmers and farmworker advocates will strongly resist changes to what is a “delicately balanced compromise”
A bipartisan group of eight House members that includes input by Valadao is working on its own proposal that is expected to be released soon.