Fresh produce business interests need a Republican presidential candidate who can successfully negotiate immigration reform and a guest worker program to keep the industry free of labor shortages.
Meanwhile, an ideal candidate for the industry would make E-Verify mandates nonexistent or friendly enough to allow produce businesses to continue to operate.
Analysis of the immigration positions of the four viable remaining Republican candidates — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum — doesn’t bode well for fresh produce industry interests.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, is the frontrunner for the nomination, but doesn’t appear clear enough in his positions, or strong enough in his leadership capacity, to make a successful guest worker program stick.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, is wishy-washy on the whole concept of immigration; Ron Paul, representive from Texas, has flip-flopped his stance on immigration over the years; and Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator, opposes immigration reform and boldly supports border security and mass deportation in a manner that clearly would be detrimental to the fresh produce industry.
Like Gingrich, Romney talks of self-deportation and a guest worker program that would involve simply verified ID cards and severe sanctions for employers who circumvent the system.
But, also like Gingrich, critics have taken Romney to task on his plan’s practicality. The concept of self-deportation seems especially unrealistic and troubling.
Like Paul, Romney has flip-flopped his stance on immigration issues.
For instance, in 2008, he favored allowing U.S. companies’ increased hiring of skilled foreign workers. But now, he doesn’t. Or at least that’s what he said in the Iowa Straw Poll 2011 GOP debate in August.
“Well, of course not. We’re not looking to bring people in for jobs that can be done by Americans,” he said.
On E-Verify, Romney told Univision Jan. 25, “You have in place a very effective E-Verify system that allows employers to check that documentation immediately, see if it’s legitimate or whether it’s been falsified. And you severely sanction employers that hire people who have no legal documentation and legal authorization to work here. On that basis, over time, people will find it less attractive to be here if they can’t find work here. Some refer to that as self-deportation.”
Is Gingrich the man?
Gingrich could be the most electable Republican who would take produce industry immigration interests to heart, although he’s been divided on many related issues.
In the CNN 2012 GOP primary debate on Jan. 26, Gingrich said, “You should fix legal immigration in terms of visas so people can come and go more easily than doing it illegally. You should have a guest worker program, probably run by American Express, Visa or MasterCard, so they minimize fraud, which the federal government won’t do.”
Gingrich voted for Reagan-style amnesty in the 1980s and says he would allow longtime residents in the U.S. illegally to stay, both positions of which are in stark contrast to Santorum, according to ontheissues.org.
“We need to have a practical, honest conversation about how to have a series of steps that get us to legality for the entire country. That does mean, I believe, most of the people who are here who have no real connections will go home and apply for a guest worker program — or somebody yesterday said maybe ‘temporary worker’ is a better title — but a program where they’re going to be here to work with no expectation of citizenship, but a real expectation that they’re going to earn an income and they’re going to be better off than they were back home,” Gingrich told Univision Jan. 25, according to thinkprogress.org.
“I want to go to guest worker system that is driven by the economy. If the economy is growing ... you would have a pretty robust guest worker program.”
Still, Gingrich’s plan would leave 11 million undocumented immigrants whistling in the wind.
Gingrich has also vowed, more than once, that he would crack down hard on employers who would try to circumvent his guest worker plan.
Paul unclear on his views
Everything about Paul’s positions on immigration seems ambiguous. He has said he supports immigration reform, the guest worker program issue and border security, but with stipulations.
On mandating E-Verify, Paul said during a debate in August, “I don’t like putting the burden on our businessmen to be the policemen. That means he has to be policing activity.”
While fresh produce industry businessmen and women can agree they have plenty of other aspects to concentrate on besides policing labor, Paul is anything but a clear-cut choice to represent industry interests in Washington, D.C.
While many in the industry may loathe a second term for Barack Obama, that probably wouldn’t be any worse than any of the Republican choices, from immigration and guest-worker program standpoints.
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