Ag Alert update: Senate passes immigration bill


A comprehensive immigration-reform measure passed the U.S. Senate Thursday by a vote of 68-32.

Now that the Senate has acted, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger says the House of Representatives should follow suit. Wenger said the Senate bill will help family farmers and ranchers address chronic problems in hiring an adequate, legal immigrant workforce.

"People who work on California farms make a big contribution to our state and its economy," Wenger said. "It's time we provide immigrant farm employees with a system that recognizes their contributions and permits them to work legally on our farms and ranches."

Wenger said the agricultural program included in the Senate immigration bill represents an agreement among agricultural organizations and the United Farm Workers on a system to benefit both farmers and their employees. It contains an agricultural program that accounts for people who want to enter the U.S. to work on farms and the people who are already in the country and can earn a chance for legal status while continuing to perform farm jobs.

"People who are already in the country would have to pass a background check. If they don't have legitimate work documents, they should be required to pay a fine. They should also be allowed to come out of the shadows and continue to contribute to our communities," Wenger said.

He noted that the program in the Senate bill represents a bipartisan compromise.

"It's not perfect but it's a big improvement from current programs that don't work for either farmers or their employees," Wenger said, encouraging the House to adopt similar reforms.

"A workable agricultural immigration system benefits border security," Wenger said, "allowing border agents to concentrate on preventing drug dealers and other criminals from entering the country. We will work to make sure our representatives recognize that and create a reformed immigration system for farmers and their employees."

Both senators from California, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted in favor of the immigration bill.

In a statement, Feinstein said she was "especially pleased" with the bill's agricultural provisions, which she noted include "creation of a new Blue Card program for legal status and a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented farm workers." Feinstein said the bill "establishes two new agricultural visa programs to make sure farmers are able to legally hire future workers when local workers are unavailable."

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said farm organizations will work with members in the House of Representatives to pass "responsible immigration-reform legislation," adding that he considers it "critical that both chambers pass legislation that can be reconciled in conference and signed into law." 

The president and CEO of Western Growers, Tom Nassif, said he looks forward to passage of a companion immigration measure in the House.

"Our immigration system is broken," Nassif said. "Without leadership and courage from our elected representatives and workable new legislation to correct these problems, it cannot be fixed." 

In a joint statement, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Wenger, Nassif and UFW President Arturo Rodriguez called the Senate immigration bill "a significant and compassionate step forward for this nation" and encouraged the House "to take similar action."  

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