Senator Rubio understands the needs of growers

Issue Date: August 28, 2013
By Christine Souza

Comprehensive immigration reform has been on the minds of agricultural leaders for decades, but faced with a constantly shrinking supply of employees and few U.S. workers willing to do farm work, all eyes have turned to leaders in Washington D.C. to reform the nation's broken immigration system.

One such leader who has come to the forefront is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and a rising star in his party. Rubio, one of the "Gang of Eight" in the Senate who helped craft the agricultural component to SB 744 that passed the full Senate on a bipartisan vote, articulated the critical timing for meaningful immigration reform while visiting California last week.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger and First Vice President Kenny Watkins met with Rubio in Bakersfield last Wednesday, along with fellow valley growers, following a meeting Rubio had with producers from the Central Coast earlier that day in Salinas.

"There is no other issue that impacts agriculture and rural communities more than immigration. The senator brings a practical, measured approach to the immigration debate," Wenger said. "The senator made a very interesting observation regarding those who say they are against 'amnesty.' By preventing an avenue for people to come out of the shadows and be identified, we have defacto amnesty now."

According to Wenger, Rubio's comments went beyond the immigration issue and focused on how the United States can restore its prominence in the world by reigniting and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit that made the country the economic wonder of the world. Those in attendance could see, Wenger explained, why Rubio is considered a worthy candidate for serving in the White House someday.

The Senate immigration reform bill—the Border Security, Economic Security and Immigration Modernization Act passed in June—contains an agricultural program that accounts for people who want to enter the U.S. to work on farms, as well as people who are already in the country and must go through a rigorous set of requirements to stay in the U.S.

Rather than taking up the comprehensive Senate bill, the House is using a "piece-by-piece approach" and passing several individual pieces of legislation. The House has until the end of the year to pass its immigration package.

"There are two houses in Congress and there are legitimate concerns, but at the end of the day, we need a bill that will make it to the president's desk and that is going to require a compromise," Wenger said. "The Senate has done its part and it's now up to the House of Representatives to do theirs. Decisions like immigration reform may be difficult, but failing to solve this problem for once and for all will put in jeopardy the production of many of the seasonal and perishable crops grown in California."

Rayne Pegg, CFBF Federal Policy Division manager, said some House Republicans don't want a program that has amnesty.

"However, doing nothing will be amnesty. We have to be honest about the problems and the situation on the ground. Many of the people working on farms are foreign born and pay taxes," Pegg said.

California Reps. David Valadao, R-Hanford, Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, seem willing to have the hard discussions on the immigration issue in order to get something done, Pegg said.

Rubio stated recently that if Congress fails to produce a solution on immigration reform, the president may issue an executive order that would legalize 11 million immigrants administratively, similar to what he did with the Dream Act.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

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