The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Aug. 17 with Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers. You can read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

1:15 p.m. Tom Karst: What are some things you have been working on this week?

Q&A | Frank Gasperini, National Council of Agricultural Employers

Gasperini

1:18 p.m. Frank Gasperini: As you may know we just had our Summer Ag-Tour and meeting in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 4-6 and there has been some follow-up work from that meeting, mostly catching up from some health care and AgJOBS discussions. I participated in ICE/IMAGE training last week and there are four or five critical issues facing ag employers right now. If that was not enough, I was interviewed by CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Friday (Aug. 13) on the issue of child labor in agriculture!

1:19 p.m. Hot issues right now include continuing aggressive I-9 auditing, the apparent coordination of visits by various state and federal enforcement agencies, increased aggressiveness of state and local immigration enforcement laws, and our expectation that we will hear much more about child labor this fall.

1:21 p.m. Karst: What was the “60 Minutes” interview like, and how do you feel about how it went?

1:21 p.m. Gasperini: The “60 Minutes” interview was actually very interesting and was enjoyable in a challenging sort of way. My concern is that although I believe I did well in explaining why farm work was wholesome and can be safe for youth, the questions continued to equate “child labor” with kids working in mines and sweat shops and I worry how it will all look once edited. On top of all these ongoing issues, the H-2A guest worker program is not working very well. There are growers worried they might not get their harvest crews in time!

1:23 p.m. Karst: Do you think an issue like child labor plays into the immigration debate?

1:26 p.m. Gasperini: My personal belief is that if we fix immigration, then we can positively address all these other issues including the negative aspects of child labor. The concern by activist groups is not true “youth work” in agriculture but a perception that undocumented migrant children are working 8- to 10-hour days, at very young ages, and not going to school. I don’t believe that is as widespread as has been claimed, but as long as we have a broken immigration system it is very difficult to track, substantiate, and take action to make sure that kids who work are of legal ages and are not being kept out of school by work.

1:31 p.m. Karst: Going back to some of these other issues, we hear about the administration’s focus on enforcement — so-called silent raids — any anecdotal reports on how those efforts are impacting ag? How do ag employers respond after the fact?

1:34 p.m. Gasperini: They discussed these at the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) meeting last week. They are proceeding at full speed and have done almost as many audits through July as all of 2009. The term “silent raids” seems to have come about because they send in teams of auditors to the employer rather than armed agents to sweep up employees. ICE told us the strict and aggressive enforcement would continue. We are hearing about farms in California, Washington and Oregon again but also in New York and some other states.