President Barack Obama began 2014 by imploring legislators to reform U.S. immigration policy and ended the year by taking executive action on the matter but failing to specifically address agriculture labor issues.

Feb. 3
Obama calls for immigration reform in 2014
By Tom Karst, National Editor

2. Immigration frustrationCalling on Congress to fix what he called the nation’s broken immigration system, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address found supporters among agricultural allies — and Republicans later in the week signalled a willingness to move forward on the topic.

Citing economic studies, Obama said Jan. 28 that immigration reform will boost the U.S. economy and shrink the deficit by nearly $1 trillion in the next 20 years.

“So let’s get immigration reform done this year,” Obama said.

Obama did not push the immigration topic too strongly during his address, said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president for the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.

“There is some thought that he might have not gone quite as hard on immigration as some people thought he might so as not to make the Republican leadership feel so beat up about it,” he said.

House Republican leaders on Jan. 30 released an outline of their principles for the legislation.

The document emphasizes a step-by-step approach to immigration reform, with border security as a first priority. House Republicans also call an opportunity for illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and “get right with the law,” but with no special path to citizenship.

House Republicans also called for an entry/exit visa tracking system, employment verification and workplace enforcement and reforms to legal immigration.

 

Feb. 10
Groups unite to push change on immigration
By Tom Karst, National Editor

More than 70 of the largest American agricultural groups, including those representing the fresh produce industry, have joined a national campaign promoting immigration reform for growers.

The campaign, called #ifarmimmigration, brings together the groups in support of immigration reform efforts in 2014, according to a news release.

“With the recent release of Republican immigration standards and the highlighting of agriculture’s unique need for action, it is clear that the time for Congress to reform our broken immigration system has arrived,” Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, said in the release. “Working together with other industries, the faith community and other reform-minded leaders is critical to achieving our shared goals.”

There is an urgent priority in the agricultural community for broad-based immigration reform, said Tom Stenzel, president of Washington, D.C.-based United fresh Produce Association.

“Our fresh fruit and vegetable members are facing labor shortages now and literally cannot afford to wait any longer,” Stenzel said in the release.

 

May 12
Vilsack presses House for reform
By Tom Karst, National Editor

Already suffering from the drought, California growers will lose even more if the House of Representatives doesn’t take up immigration reform this year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

He was joined in a May 5 teleconference pushing for immigration reform by Arturo Rodriquez, president of the United Farm Workers Union; and Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League. Rodriquez and Cunha called out Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, representing the San Joaquin Valley, on his lack of support so far for immigration reform.

McCarthy is majority whip for the House GOP, the third ranking Republican in the House, and is responsible for gathering support within the party for legislation that will be voted on.

The lack of comprehensive immigration reform has created uncertainty and instability in American agriculture, he said. The Senate immigration bill passed last year would increase California farm income by $500 million, Vilsack said.

Vilsack said some California farms don’t have enough labor to harvest their crops.

Rodriquez said that no industry would benefit more from comprehensive immigration reform than agriculture. Last year, he said farm workers and agricultural employers came together to create the agricultural labor provisions of the Senate bill S. 744.

The labor leader said the UFW thinks there are enough votes to pass immigration reform in the House.

“A majority of the House of Representatives said they are prepared to vote for comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a road map to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” he said.

 

June 16
Clinton supports immigration reform, produce in schools
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Expressing support for immigration reform and maintaining nutrition standards in schools earned Hillary Clinton some spontaneous applause at the opening session of the United Fresh Produce Association’s conference and expo.

The former secretary of state, first lady and U.S. senator didn’t quite get a standing ovation from the more than 2,000 show attendees, though, when she took center stage at McCormick Place Convention Center.

Her speech came on the day of her new book release, “Hard Choices,” and Clinton worked the phrase into her remarks at least two dozen times.

Clinton stressed the importance of good nutrition and fresh fruits and vegetables. She lambasted the recent attempt by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee that would have allowed school districts to opt out of requirements that boost produce in school meals due to budget concerns.

But Clinton saved her strongest language for those in Washington, D.C., who have worked to block immigration reform, saying she was “bewildered” by their stand. She said she understands why growers support immigration reform and said unfounded fear is standing in the way of ensuring a much needed labor force.

“Everybody I talk to personally, Democrat and Republican alike, in the leadership of both houses, know we have to have immigration reform,” Clinton said.

Labor issues aren’t the only reason she supports an overhaul of America’s immigration laws. She said some opponents of reform are afraid of what amounts to the diversity that built the country.

“They don’t seem to understand one of our strongest and most important attributes is that we are still a nation of immigrants,” she said.

 

July 7
Obama promises executive action on immigration
By Tom Karst, National Editor

Speaking one year after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, President Barack Obama chided what he called “obstruction” from Republicans in the House of Representatives as preventing movement on the issue.

“Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill,” Obama said June 30, according to whitehouse.gov. “They’ve proven again and again that they’re unwilling to stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what’s best for the country.”

Obama said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told him Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of the year.

Obama promised executive action to address immigration issues, starting with moving more federal resources to the southern border.

“Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure,” he said.

Obama also promised additional administration actions by the end of the summer to “do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

Industry leaders urged House leaders to influence reforms to the U.S. immigration system.

“We appreciate President Obama’s commitment to try to address our broken immigration policy through executive action, but urge the House of Representatives not to abandon their responsibility to address this serious issue,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement.

“If the House continues to disregard its responsibility to address this issue, the produce industry has no choice but to work with the administration on short-term administrative patches that will be appreciated, but are ultimately unsatisfactory.”

 

Sept. 15
Industry takes on Washington
By Tom Karst, National Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Focusing on the continuing need for immigration reform and the fight to keep in place fruit- and vegetable-friendly school nutrition standards, the 2014 United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference brought together a crowd of nearly 500 industry participants for the Sept. 8-10 event.

Meeting during a week that Congress was in session — not the case last year, when a government shutdown disrupted meetings with lawmakers and Obama administration officials — the 2014 Washington Conference offered ample opportunities for engagement, said Ron Carkoski, chairman of United Fresh and president and CEO of Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Seasons Family of Cos.

“We’ve had a great opportunity to hear from leaders in our government and experts in the industry to tell us how to get our goals accomplished,” he said.

While Congressional inaction on the immigration issue is now an accepted fact, at least until after the elections in November, industry leaders still pressed that issue in meeting with lawmakers.

 

Sept. 15
Obama delays executive action on immigration
By Tom Karst, National Editor

President Obama apparently has decided to table plans for executive action on immigration until after the November election.

When he does act, he may give long-term undocumented workers in the U.S. a way to stay on their jobs without fear of deportation.

In remarks at a press conference Sept. 5, Obama said he wants to give immigrants “some path so that they can start paying taxes and pay a fine and learn English and be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.”

However, he did not issue a timetable for when he would act, and most Washington observers expect him to act after the mid-term elections.

“Nobody knows if he is going to go big or small,” said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers. Gasperini said some believe Obama will issue an executive order that will provide deferred enforcement action on undocumented workers in the U.S. who have been in the country longer than 10 years.

Gasperini said he believes more than half of the undocumented workers in agriculture have been in the U.S. longer than 10 years.

While growers want their workers to have proper authorization, he said there is an also a fear that those workers could make the move to year-round industry and leave agriculture if they had legal papers.

“We could lose a big percentage of our workers very quickly,” he said.

 

Nov. 17
Industry awaits action on immigration reform
By Tom Karst, National Editor

While some members of Congress are calling on President Obama to include farm workers in his expected executive action to give relief to illegal immigrants in the U.S., the timing and substance of his potential moves is unclear.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus said in a Nov. 12 memo to President Obama that the president has the “legal authority and moral imperative” to provide relief for 7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including agricultural and seasonal farm workers.

A Fox News report Nov. 13 said that President Obama will unveil a 10-part plan to reform immigration policy by executive action, including a suspension of deportations for millions. The report said the plan include initiatives that cover border security, deferred action on deportation, higher pay for immigration officers, and other issues.

Fox News reported that the plan, possibly to be unveiled Nov. 21, calls for not only broadening deferred action for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children, but also including the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The Fox News report did not include any reference, however, to any actions planned by Obama to provide relief to illegal immigrants working in agriculture.

President Obama may wait to announce his plans on immigration until after the lame duck session of Congress is over in mid-December, said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.

“I think the safe money is that he will wait until the lame duck (session) is over because they need to fund the government for the rest of the year,” he said. With Republican plans on taking up immigration reform still not settled, Nuxoll said Western Growers wants to see the details of what President Obama may propose relating to immigrant farm workers before judging it.

 

Dec. 1
Obama’s immigration plan skirts ag labor needs
By Tom Karst, National Editor

President Barack Obama’s immigration plan calls for allowing undocumented immigrants with children who are citizens or legal residents to stay in the U.S., a move that doesn’t specifically address the need for a stable agriculture workforce.

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?” said Obama, who unveiled his plan Nov. 20. “Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?”

Obama’s plan would apply to undocumented immigrants that have been in America for more than five years, if they have children who are citizens or legal residents. Those immigrants can register, go through a criminal background check, and pay taxes to “get right with the law,” Obama said.

The plan also expands work authorization for highly skilled workers who are in line for a green card. Obama said he would prioritize enforcement to focus on criminals and those who recently crossed the border illegally.

About 4.4 million out of a total of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could take advantage of Obama’s plan, according to some estimates.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Obama’s actions won’t help growers deal with labor challenges.

“Our nation loses millions of dollars in fruit and vegetable production every year because farmers cannot find labor to harvest everything they grow,” Stallman said in a release. “This order will not change that.”