By WES SANDER
It illustrates modern perspectives on immigration politics when farm groups share a political rally with their longtime adversary. Some of those groups appeared in Washington, D.C., in March to push for reform alongside the United Farm Workers union.
Although the two sides have remained aligned for a decade on immigration policy, conducting rallies together still seems novel.
AgJOBS grew from an inhospitable political landscape after a string of failed attempts at fixing H-2A. UFW had fought those efforts, saying they cemented migrants' guest-worker status, thus limiting opportunities for citizenship or legal residency.
By 1999, a political impasse had resulted. That's when Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, whom many call the godfather of immigration reform, organized a meeting of key figures, including Manuel Cunha, president of Nisei Farmers League in California, and United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez.
"We were asked to attend because my organization and UFW kind of had problems," said Cunha.
The groups had derived their identities from mutual conflict. Nisei was founded in 1971 by Japanese-American farmers to resist UFW, which had spent the past decade pushing for labor rights.
Both Cunha and Rodriguez are second-generation leaders: Cunha followed Nisei founder Harry Kubo, who had earned a high profile in anti-union politics; Rodriguez had assumed UFW's reigns from the late Cesar Chavez, the storied labor organizer.
The two met in Los Angeles, along with Berman and then-former California Farm Bureau President Bob Vice, among others. Cunha recalls a pervasive fear that several decades' worth of raw feelings might sink the effort before it ever gained speed. "No one knew of us meeting," Cunha recalled. "We didn't want anyone to demolition it."
But the event sparked dialogue, which soon produced AgJOBS. The bill was first introduced to Congress in 2003, only to meet with a failure that many attribute to the stiff political climate following the terror attacks of 2001.
The legislation has since been re-introduced, with some tweaks along the way, in each session of Congress -- in 2006 and 2007, and again in May 2009 -- and will need yet another introduction if it stalls this year.
But as frustrations littered their path, ag and labor interests have maintained their solid alignment on immigration policy for a decade
"I think (AgJOBS) is a good example of a compromise piece of legislation that puts us in the right direction," said Paul Simonds of Western Growers.