Farm leaders weigh Obama’s immigration options
President could give illegal immigrants H-2A status
By Dan Wheat
President Barack Obama could use the power granted him in law to allow farmworkers in the country illegally to transition into the H-2A foreign visa guestworker program, the director of the Washington Farm Labor Association says.
“It would give them the dignity of legal presence and would have bipartisan support because it’s a solution Republicans proposed in the House but that didn’t make it to the House floor,” said Dan Fazio, association director in Olympia, Wash.
The move would involve waiving the 3-10 bar, which requires illegal workers who have been in the U.S. under a year to leave the country for three years before applying for any visa to get back in and 10 years if they’ve been here for more than a year, Fazio said.
It’s a waiver the government already allows for other industries and would be easier for Obama to do than the deferred action for childhood arrivals he’s already granted, he said.
Fazio’s comments were in reaction to Obama’s June 30 speech in which he said he would use executive orders to unilaterally change immigration policies without Congress.
Fazio said he’s concerned that if Obama overreaches his authority it will backfire and make it that much harder to get any immigration reform through Congress.
“I listened to his speech. It was partisan. I don’t know why he continues to be partisan instead of trying to bring people together,” Fazio said.
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., said he was part of a group of agricultural leaders and other interests who discussed immigration with Vice President Joe Biden on June 26. He said Biden said there will be action to reduce adverse affects of congressional inaction on illegals but would not say what.
Industry representatives were not asked what they want accomplished with the use of executive power or if they would support its use, Nassif said.
“The president must have some sense of the policies he intends to pursue by administrative action and that those policies are being developed, at least so far, without meaningful input from industry representatives,” he said, noting congressional action is preferable.
Nassif said he hopes Obama’s actions don’t withstand legal challenge if they are adverse to business and agriculture. Nassif was a lead agricultural negotiator on a Senate immigration bill.
Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League in Fresno, Calif., said he thinks Obama is trying to pressure Congress to act. He said legislation may be more likely in the congressional lame duck session after the November elections.
“To me the key is agriculture because of food supply and food safety. These workers who are here are committed to agriculture and agriculture is committed to feeding the world and yet our Congress doesn’t get that,” Cunha said.
He said he’s hopeful Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as the new House majority leader will help move legislation because “he knows the issue and the vulnerability of agriculture and other industries.”
There’s a lot of frustration and hardships for farmers and workers and workers being victimized by human traffic cartels, not just in Mexico, but in California and probably Washington, he said.
Lee Wicker, deputy director of the North Carolina Growers Association in Vass, N.C., said there isn’t a lot Obama can do administratively in regulations or he already would have done it.
Wicker said Obama is under heavy pressure to expand deferred action programs for childhood arrivals to other groups. He said Obama likely will defer penalties, prosecutions and re-sequence enforcement priorities with expanded protections for some.
“If he wants to do something bold to excite … in advance of the election, he may grant some sort of time-limited universal work authorization for the undocumented in an attempt to stoke up the base,” Wicker said.
He said he’s very concerned an overreach of power will undermine bipartisan congressional action and fuel an already growing view that Obama is acting imperialistically.
“The sad part for labor intensive agriculture is that the farm labor market is bad and deteriorating and I can’t see the administration taking any action that will add any additional farmworkers,” Wicker said.