AgJOBS possible as part of reform or as standalone bill
By WES SANDER
There's a lot of talk these days about immigration reform, but congressional action has yet to pick up speed.
Bipartisan support is building around the plodding efforts in Congress. Still, observers aren't offering much confidence that lawmakers will act quickly enough to move legislation this year.
The limiting factor cited most often is congressional elections looming in November. Conventional wisdom says lawmakers will shy from large issues after having approved a health care overhaul.
Immigration has long proven to be a hot-button issue, and support for the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, a reform effort introduced in Congress four times since 2003, isn't universal among farm and ranch organizations.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has so far held out, saying it wants to tweak several aspects of the legislation. But virtually all Western states commodity groups support it.
"I think it's a good example of a good compromise piece of legislation that puts us in the right direction," said Paul Simonds, spokesman for Western Growers in California. "You don't want to throw out the good for the perfect."
AgJOBS was most recently introduced in May 2009 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have outlined a plan for comprehensive reform that could include AgJOBS, but they have yet to introduce legislation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., has signed on as the only current Republican co-sponsor of AgJOBS.
AgJOBS was negotiated by farm and labor interests and is viewed as the best answer to an as-yet-intractable problem. Some AgJOBS supporters have begun suggesting AgJOBS could move forward alone if a comprehensive overhaul proves insurmountable this year.
Meanwhile state lawmakers are urging Congress and President Barack Obama to act.
Jon Devaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, admits that political fatigue from the health care overhaul, combined with looming elections, may derail reform efforts this year. But like many reform backers, Devaney offers a ray of political hope in the notion that politics is unpredictable.
"I didn't think they could pass the health care bill, so my track record on predicting is not good," he said.