Commentary: The time is now for comprehensive immigration reform


Issue Date: April 10, 2013
By Hannah Fortin
Most Americans are descended from people who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Reform of federal immigration laws would help people who have entered the country to work in many sectors, including agriculture.
Most Americans are descended from people who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Reform of federal immigration laws would help people who have entered the country to work in many sectors, including agriculture.
Most Americans are descended from people who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Reform of federal immigration laws would help people who have entered the country to work in many sectors, including agriculture.
Photo/Paolo Vescia
Hannah Fortin

Rose’s parents, Italian immigrants, had an arranged marriage. Her mother was 16 years old, and her father was in his early 30s. The marriage produced three children, Rose and her two younger brothers. Throughout her childhood, Rose remembers caring for her brothers while her mom worked to earn a living with any job she could find. As an adult, Rose worked at a textile mill. There, she met Don Miller and they were married. They had two daughters, Marilyn and Diane. While in college, Marilyn met Dave Hutchens, an electrical lineman, and they got married. She gave birth to two children, Sandra and Steve. Sandra became a residents’ assistant at a housing complex at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and met Steve Fortin. The two were married and had three daughters, Hannah, Heather and Holly. I am their first-born and Rose is my great-grandmother.

We all have a story like this. It is fascinating how a majority of us are descendants of people who were not originally from America. Occasionally, we forget this, and we allow our misguided judgment to fall on those with the same dream that our ancestors held dear. Today, these people are all around us, doing their best to provide better opportunities for their children. They maintain occupations in many industries, specifically agriculture. Due to the overall importance of agriculture, the topic of immigration reform in the United States has an effect on all citizens, even those who are not directly involved in agriculture.

The government has been challenged with issues of immigration for many years, as our nation has been a very desirable destination for people who wish to better their lives. These people have often been viewed with distaste, and many citizens are of the opinion that they are taking job opportunities away. This has been true for the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, immigrants from all over Asia and now, the Mexicans. There are many stereotypes and connotations that are used by the ignorant, and it is vital that we make a change.

This change has finally made its way to lawmakers’ center stage, as they discuss comprehensive immigration reform. These alterations to our current policy are coming down the pike, and as citizens we must prepare to make an informed contribution to a solution that affects American industry as well as reflects a conscientious view of our origins.

The industry that will likely be most affected by the impending changes is agriculture. H-2A, a federal guestworker program, is the only means available to secure legal foreign workers, but it is flawed by cost and bureaucratic hurdles. Another issue is that employees through H-2A are only permitted to work at times, locations and jobs specified prior to being hired. Crop timing and perishability dictate many agricultural work hours and locations, so this has been a cause of frustration with employers. Also, farmers using the H-2A program are required to hire any domestic workers that apply for the job, most of whom are unlikely to be successful or content with the work.

It is evident that a workforce comprised solely of available American workers cannot sustain the agricultural production so critical to our great nation. Comprehensive immigration reform that secures the border, verifies employment eligibility, adjusts the status of the existing undocumented workforce and provides a means for future legal immigrant work flow is imperative.

These alterations will provide for a modified guestworker program as well as a way to allow the agricultural workers in the United States who have diligently contributed to the success of our country for many years to continue to do so. With the population ever increasing and farmland diminishing, comprehensive solutions to immigration issues, especially in agriculture, can only benefit our society.

Farmers have made many advancements compensating for urbanization and lack of resources, and they continue to produce enough to feed the world. However, the population is expected to double by the year 2050 and producing the necessary amount of food and fiber will become increasingly more difficult. Changes such as comprehensive immigration reform are vital as they assist agriculture in simplifying current processes so that farmers are able to focus on creating possible future plans to further increase yield and continue to nourish and clothe the citizens of the world.

Bringing about change to our immigration system will not only allow a more organized workforce to contribute to the wealth of our nation, but it will also offer a future to those who may not seem to have one, just as it was for the immigrants we descended from.

Our need for comprehensive immigration reform is undeniable, and the time is now. After all, do you not want to make available to others the same choices that are available to you because someone many, many years ago chose to become an American? I’m sure Rose’s story is similar to one you know. Consider all you have and take for granted. Doesn’t someone else deserve the same opportunities that you have been provided? Take action. Make a difference. All it takes is some appreciation of the struggles of others.

(Hannah Fortin is a student at Lassen High School in Susanville.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.