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Ag coalition still working for immigration reform

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Some congressional observers say immigration reform is dead because Congress is embroiled a partial government shutdown, but a leader of agricultural groups says they remain hopeful of action this year.

With Congress at an impasse over a partial government shutdown, the budget, Obamacare and the debt ceiling, some say immigration reform is dead.

But the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, United Farm Workers of America and other groups don’t see it that way.

UFW, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others led a rally of thousands in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, demanding House Republicans pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship this year.

“We have to keep the heat on Congress. We have to let them know we’re not willing to wait in the wings and we don’t believe immigration reform should be dependent on passing any other bill,” Tom Nassif, a leader in AWC and president of Western Growers Association in Irvine, Calif., told Capital Press.

Previously, Nassif has said the House needed to pass an immigration reform bill before the August congressional recess to get the issue into a conference committee. Nassif helped negotiate a Senate bill that passed that body on June 27. Nassif had warned chances for immigration reform, to help provide a legal and stable workforce for agriculture, diminishes as other issues rise this fall and mid-term congressional elections make it harder to pass a bill next year.

But now he says there’s still time.

“We expect to get a Farm Bill done (this year) and a lot of people are still working hard to push immigration bills forward,” Nassif said.

“Republicans don’t seem to be concerned whether it’s this year or next year. We hope they continue to pass individual bills for (parts of) immigration reform and once they do to have something to go to conference with. We hope before the end of the year,” he said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and others continue to work various portions of immigration reform, Nassif said.

AWC is still negotiating with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on the agricultural part, he said. Legal status of existing works continues to be an issue, he said.

Chances of passing immigration reform next year are “dramatically reduced,” Nassif said. Starting over with a new Congress in 2015 is also difficult because new members would have to be brought up to speed on the issues, he said.

In June, Nassif said if immigration reform fails the exodus of vegetable producers from the American Southwest to Mexico, Latin America, the Middle East, South Africa and China will accelerate.

That still holds true, he said, noting the exodus has been ongoing for the last decade because of lack of stable, legal labor and production costs.

Immigration reform needs to happen, he has said, if the U.S. wants to feed its own people without being dependent on foreign countries that may some day use food as a leverage.


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