Those who reside in the heady confines of Washington, D.C., have peered into their crystal ball and declared that the "next act" for President Barack Obama's administration will mostly likely be immigration reform.
Reform of a failed system that involves protecting the nation's borders and regulating who shall and shall not be allowed into the United States should be a priority of this administration. Especially in this era of international mischief wrought by radicals of all stripes, the only prudent path is the one that keeps them out and allows immigrants who want to work in.
President George W. Bush was said to be ready to undertake a wholesale rewrite of the nation's immigration laws before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Now, nearly 12 years later, it is time to revisit a need that has gotten more urgent with time.
A portion of any immigration reform bill will address the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Many arrived as agricultural workers and either remain as such or work in other industries. All need to be addressed in a manner that is both fair and just. They should be provided a contract that puts them on a path toward citizenship that includes payment of a fine (they broke federal law to get here) and learning English (a current requirement of citizenship). If they commit no felonies, they should be allowed to become citizens.
However, that will not fully address the concerns of agriculture, which relies on transient farmworkers to harvest crops and do field work. Some farms and orchards also rely on the difficult-to-use H-2A program that provides temporary workers. Other types of agricultural operations such as dairies cannot use H-2A because they need long-term workers.
Groups within agriculture have been working on a way to address their personnel needs. Taken in the context of a rewrite of immigration laws, it is important for agriculture to speak with a united voice in Congress and the White House.
Groups such as the American Farm Bureau and the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform have been working on a way to solve many of the problems associated with immigration without creating others for farmers.
However, the United Farm Workers union has complained that it was not consulted during the deliberations. Though they had been included in talks on legislation specific to agricultural jobs, they were not included in the latest effort. When asked about the current proposal, the union spelled out its objections, which boil down to "you didn't ask us" and because of that the reform proposal is an "appalling nonstarter."
It can be assumed that such outbursts are a way for the UFW to get everyone's attention. Such opening salvos are commonplace in negotiations.
We encourage all sides to work to develop a labor reform proposal that agriculture can live with, if not embrace, as part of overall immigration reform.
The alternative is the status quo, which can only be described as an even more "appalling nonstarter" that hurts both agriculture and the UFW.