Western Growers opposes Goodlatte bill as immigration debate heats up

Tom Nassif

Western Growers, a trade group representing the growers of more than half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts is opposed to the Goodlatte bill in the U.S. House that seeks to bolster immigration enforcement, fix DACA and replace the H-2A-visa foreign guestworker program with a new H-2C program.

The bill, Securing America’s Future Act, HR 4760, was introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., and several other committee chairmen on Jan. 10.

“The proposed H-2C program would be devastating to our membership as it fails to provide adequate assurances for our current and future workforce needs,” Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., wrote in a recent email to members. The organization represents growers in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

“Under the Goodlatte bill, all current unauthorized farmworkers would be required to become guestworkers under the H-2C program, which mandates they return to their home country before participating in the guestworker program,” Nassif wrote.

“In the coming days and weeks, Western Growers will work with the greatest urgency to prevent the Goodlatte bill from coming to the House floor while we also pursue a workable solution in Congress,” he wrote.

His email was intended for members only, but The Packer, a Kansas fresh produce newspaper, received a copy and published a story from it, Cory Lunde, a Western Growers spokesman, told Capital Press.

The story is accurate but the immigration issue remains “very much in flux” and Western Growers has no further comment until it has a clearer understanding of the pathway forward, Lunde said. In recent days, several other proposals have surfaced on immigration, including one from the Trump administration. Most focus on DACA and border enforcement.

Nassif wrote that the Goodlatte bill’s annual cap of 410,000 H-2C visas could leave industry short of workers and that the bill leaves spouses and children of workers, returning to their home country to apply for H-2C visas, subject to deportation. The bill grants recipients of DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a three-year renewable legal status allowing them to work and travel overseas but with no special paths to permanent work status known as green cards. They were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The bill increases the number of green cards available in three skilled worker categories from 120,000 to 175,000 annually, a 45 percent increase.

The bill includes partial funding for a border wall and requires employers to use E-verify (electronic employment eligibility) within two years.

Agricultural sources have said E-verify without legal work status for illegal immigrants could reduce agricultural workforces by 50 to 70 percent, causing major disruption.

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