UPDATED: Senators unveil bipartisan immigration plan(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 29) President Obama has added his voice to calls for immigration reform.

Speaking in Las Vegas Jan. 29, Obama said he supports a plan that strengthens U.S. borders, cracks down on companies that hire undocumented workers, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they earn their citizenship and streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.

Eight U.S. senators — Republicans and Democrats — proposed their own immigration plan Jan 28.

Agriculture is specifically mentioned in that plan, said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for the American Nursery & Landscape Association, Washington, D.C.

Republican senators backing the plan include John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Democratic senators supporting the package include  Chuck Schumer of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

“In the principles that the eight senators have released, agriculture is very much acknowledged,” Regelbrugge said.

In particular, the plan gives current farmworkers the ability to continue to perform the work they are now doing.

The plan also calls a workable guest worker program.

 “They wisely recognized that agriculture has some unique needs that need to be dealt with in a sensible way,” Regelbrugge said.

Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, praised the bill for its bipartisan recognition of the needs of agriculture.

“Clearly this is the most significant step taken in a long time on immigration reform,” he said.

Regelbrugge said the Senate is expected to act first in taking up immigration reform this year.
The principles of the Senate plan include four key pillars, according to a document  released by the senators. Those are to:=

  • Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  • Reform the immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the economy and strengthen families;
  • Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
  • Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s work force needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

The new rules would allow employers to hire immigrants if it can be shown that they were unsuccessful in recruiting U.S. citizens to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace U.S. workers.

In particular, the document said that reform legislation should create a workable program to meet the needs of America’s agricultural industry, including dairy, to find agricultural workers when American workers are not available to fill open positions. The plan also would allow more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when the U.S. economy is creating jobs, and fewer when our economy is not creating job.