House takes piecemeal approach to immigration reform

Mitch Lies/For the Capital Press Banks, Ore., Christmas tree farmer Mark Schmidlin talks with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., Dec. 18 during a visit by Bonamici to his farm. Bonamici answered questions from about a dozen farmers on immigration reform, the farm bill and the U.S. Department of Labor's use of the "hot goods" provision of U.S. labor law when investigating farms for alleged minimum wage law violations.

BANKS, Ore. — U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said at a meeting with farmers at a Banks Christmas tree farm Dec. 18 that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has taken comprehensive immigration reform off the table in favor of a piecemeal approach to solving the nation’s immigration crisis.

House Democrats, in turn, now are hoping that the piecemeal approach will adequately address workforce and human-rights issues affected by long-term congressional inaction on immigration reform, she said.

“Because the chairman (Goodlatte) has said ‘I am not going to put up a comprehensive bill,’ we’re saying, ‘All right, we need to do something, so bring the pieces and we’ll see if we have a meal,’” Bonamici said.

Bonamici said she signed onto a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House that is similar to a bill the Senate passed in June, but that bill has stalled.

The House comprehensive bill is similar to the Senate bill in that it includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a provision, Bonamici said, that makes the bill untenable to some House Republicans.

“The big difficulty,” she said, “is there are a lot of people opposed to what is referred to as amnesty. They don’t want to give anything to people who are undocumented.”

Bonamici said the comprehensive reform bill, however, is far from an amnesty program.

“It’s not like we are all of a sudden making these people citizens,” she said. “They have to go to the end of the line. They have to earn the right to stay here. They have to pay back taxes.”

Bonamici told the dozen or so farmers gathered at the Christmas tree farm that she hears from many of her constituents within the First District about the need for immigration reform, including constituents within the high-tech and the agricultural sectors.

Bonamici’s district includes parts of Northwest Portland, all of Washington, Clackamas and Yamhill counties, bringing in urban, suburban, high-tech, agriculture, forestry and fishery interests, she said.

“I hope when we get back (Jan. 7) that we can do something and get this (immigration issue) resolved,” she said. “Whether it be for the workforce issue or (for humanitarian reasons), I hope we get something through.”

Farmers also expressed concerns over the inability of Congress to pass a farm bill, which now is in conference committee after different versions passed the House and the Senate earlier this year.

One big difference between the bills is the level of cuts proposed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as food stamps. The Democrat-controlled Senate has proposed cuts averaging $4 billion to SNAP over 10 years, while the Republican-controlled House has proposed cuts of $42 billion for the same period.

Bonamici said she believes the final bill will include cuts of “somewhere in between” the two figures.

“There are a lot of good things in that Farm Bill,” Bonamici said, “including specialty crops and the Christmas tree checkoff program, so we want that to come out of conference in a way that is going to build the broad support that we need to have it get through both chambers and get passed into law.”

Farmers also brought up concerns over the U.S. Department of Labor’s use of the “hot goods” provision of U.S. labor laws when addressing alleged minimum wage law violations on farms.

“When I heard about the situation, I thought, ‘This is unjust,’” said Bonamici, who is a lawyer.

“If there are allegations, it needs to be determined whether there has been a wrong that needs to be righted,” she said. “But, in the meantime, you don’t just stop shipment of perishable goods while you are investigating something.”

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