Immigration deal in sight
If the talking points are to be believed, a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate last week seems to satisfy the needs of the agriculture industry.
Though we've yet to wade through the nearly 900 pages of the bill -- dubbed "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013" -- it seems to include many of the provisions we've often called for in this space.
Agriculture and labor interests agree that as many as 70 percent of immigrants working in the fields and orchards are in the country illegally. A coalition of those interests say the provisions they've agreed to will ensure a legal, stable agricultural workforce.
Recognizing the importance of immigrant labor to the industry, and as an incentive for current illegal immigrant farmworkers to remain in the industry, the proposed legislation provides agriculture workers a shorter path to full legal residence status and eventual citizenship.
Farmworkers who have worked 100 days in agriculture in 2011 and 2012, and choose to remain in agriculture, can qualify for a "blue card," providing provisional legal status.
Generally, the legislation allows those who have paid their taxes, paid a $2,000 fine and have no convictions for serious crimes to apply for permanent legal status -- a green card -- after 10 years. The legislation allows farmworkers to get a green card after only five years, reduces the fine to $400 and allows their spouses and minor children to also quality.
Those who get a green card can apply for citizenship after three years.
The proposed legislation replaces the current H-2A guestworker visa that most producers find unworkable. Some workers would receive a portable, employment-based visa that would allow them to change jobs and others would receive a contract-based visa.
Under the contract program, visas could be for as long as three years and employers would have to provide housing or a housing allowance.
The bill requires all employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure only citizens and immigrants in the country legally are hired.
All of that sounds good, but the bill faces an uphill battle.
Implementation of the most of the bill's provisions depends on securing the border. The bill requires the Border Patrol achieve 100 percent "border awareness" and a 90 percent apprehension rate in certain high-risk sectors. It also calls for the construction of a security fence.
All of this has been tried before. We're not sure it can be carried off with greater success this time. Democrats have never put much stock in the border fence.
And there are many in Congress, conservative Republicans in particular, who think the measure smacks of amnesty, a pass for millions who have lived and worked here in violation of the law.
We have to admit that they're right. It's a heck of a deal. But we can see no other way to handle 11 million illegal immigrants who are here, and in many cases working hard in jobs most citizens don't want.
The proposed legislation isn't perfect. But it's as good a solution as we have seen.
It makes sense to secure the border and offer provisional legal status to those who qualify. It's time to get these immigrants registered and paying taxes under their real names, relieve their employers of the liability of employing illegals and work to fully integrate them into our culture.