Commentary: Facts show the need for action on immigration reform

Issue Date: April 2, 2014
By Bob Stallman
Bob Stallman
Farmers of all sorts of commodities depend on an immigrant workforce, and a study sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows that the nation could lose about $60 billion in food production if Congress pursues an enforcement-only form of immigration reform.

People often argue with others' opinions. In fact, we tend to enjoy it. The comments section of any news website is evidence of that.

It's much more difficult (and pointless) to argue with the facts. So it's great when farmers have economic data that bears out what they are seeing on their farms and ranches. "Don't take my word for it," they can say. "See for yourself."

On the issue of immigration reform, we have the facts. As congressional leaders debate an immigration overhaul, Farm Bureau has released an economic study that lets us see for ourselves how labor shortages are hurting agriculture and the impacts of various immigration reform proposals on food production and prices.

The study shows that if Congress goes the enforcement-only route, America would lose about $60 billion worth of its food production. Of course, when production goes down and demand is the same or growing, prices go up, and that's exactly what would happen with food. The report shows that food prices would rise by 5 percent or 6 percent on top of normal price increases if Congress focuses solely on stepped-up enforcement. We'll all pay a price, farmers and consumers alike, if Congress does not couple immigration enforcement with measures to create a more stable labor supply.

Farmers depend heavily on an immigrant labor force—not because they want to, but because often, those are the only workers they can hire for seasonal and physically demanding farm work. We know that of the estimated 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States, about 525,000 of them are part of the agricultural workforce. We also know this situation can't continue. We want to fix the problem. But we don't want to—and don't have to—lose food production in the process.

The report released by Farm Bureau shows that anything less than comprehensive reform is just a half-measure. With a redesigned guestworker program and the opportunity for skilled laborers now working in agriculture to earn an adjustment of status, food prices would remain stable and the drop in food production due to more immigration enforcement would be less than 1 percent. Seems like a no-brainer.

When all Congress has to work with is opinions, you can understand legislators' reluctance to act. On the issue of farm labor, we have facts and they all point in the same direction: Farmers and consumers both need comprehensive immigration reform.

(Bob Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

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

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