See related story:Industry anticipates Obama's moves on immigration.
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."
Echoing the sentiments of other agricultural leaders, Stallman said the U.S. needs a flexible visa program that ensures long-term access to an expanding workforce by allowing foreign-born workers to enter the country. Stallman also said the workers who are currently in America should be allowed to stay.
“Congress has a golden opportunity to present a clear vision on immigration in America. We need legislation that addresses border security and enforcement, improves an outdated agricultural visa program and gives experienced agricultural workers a way to gain legal status, Stallman said in the release.
The Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform released a statement that said the consequences of labor instability and Congressional inaction to address it have been severe. The group said the percentage of the farm workforce estimated to be unauthorized has grown from 34% in 1994 to more than 70% now. A legislative solution is needed, according to the group.