I had the chance to chat 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 online at thepacker.com/freshtalk.

1:14 p.m. Tom Karst: Hi Frank. thanks for taking time today for a chat.

Frank Gasperini
: Thank you Tom. It is always a privilege to communicate with The Packer.

1:15 p.m. Karst: I know you keep busy. What are some things you have been working on this week?

1:18 p.m. Gasperini: I have been working on several issues this week. As you may know we just had our Summer Ag-Tour and meeting in Sacramento, CA August 4-6 and there has been some follow-up work from that meeting, mostly catching-up from some Health Care and AgJOBS discussions. In addition to that Matt and 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 (8/13) on the issue of Child Labor in Agriculture!

1:19 p.m. Gasperini: 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: A lot to talk about in all those issues.; 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? If so, what are the issues that the public might react to?

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.

1:27 p.m. Karst: Who interviewed you for 60 minutes and do you know when the segment will air?

1:29 p.m. Gasperini: I was face-to-face with Byron Pitts for over an hour, segment hopes to air sometime in the fall. They have been working on this for a couple of months around the country and are wrapping it up now. I was invited on very short notice--- would have loved to have had time to work with some allies on prepping!

1:31 p.m. Karst: Well, you have earned your paycheck for sure. 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 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, also they are not announcing groups of audits like last year but just proceeding with them. 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. Nothing as dramatic as a few of the very large farms who lost hundreds of employees overnight last year, but still devastating.

1:35 p.m. Karst: So employers are in a tough spot after these raids.. what can they do - and what does ICE expect?
1:36 p.m. Gasperini: Additionally, between Wage and Hour, State Department, USCIS, and the states the situation with H-2A is all but unworkable and getting worse! Relative to ICE audits, perfect I-9 compliance is the only safety net. One veteran ICE speaker said he has never fined anyone who was completely diligent in completing and maintaining their I-9s.

1:39 p.m. Karst: I know I have kept you a while, so one more question. If you were to answer the question - "where is the hope" relative to immigration reform for agriculture, how would you respond?

1:40 p.m. Gasperini: That some senior Senators will be willing to sit down--- across party lines--- and do what is right by starting with AgJOBS and eventually doing the hard work of serving the country and passing reasonable, enforceable, moral, and economically viable reform.

1:41 p.m. Karst: Frank, I again appreciate your insight and time today. Thanks again.

Gasperini: Thank you Tom. It is always a delight to work with you and others in your organization.