Ag groups study new House immigration bill

Rep. Robert Goodlatte

Representatives of labor-intensive agriculture are not rushing to comment on a new immigration bill introduced on Wednesday by House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., and several other committee chairmen.

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council for Agricultural Employers, said the Agricultural Workforce Coalition is reviewing the bill. The coalition includes NCFS and 11 other members including the American Farm Bureau Federation and 96 supportive agricultural organizations.

Western Growers, of Irvine, Calif., representing growers, packers and shippers of about half the produce grown in America, had no comment.

Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said he was in Washington, D.C., and had not yet had time to review the bill.

More than 20 other agricultural organizations Capital Press asked for comment did not respond.

The bill, Securing America’s Future Act, HR 4760, seeks to bolster immigration enforcement, reform legal immigration programs, secure the U.S.-Mexican border and grants recipients of DACA (Deferred Action of 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.

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. It includes Goodlatte’s previously introduced H-2C guestworker plan to provide a flow of farmworkers, apparently replacing the H-2A program.

It also requires employers to use E-verify (electronic employment eligibility) within two years.

A key question for labor-intensive agriculture is whether the H-2C guestworker program and the increase in green cards for skilled workers are enough to meet labor demands. 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.

The bill ends lottery green card visas, chain immigration and reduces a legal immigration limit by 25 percent from 1,060,000 people.

The bill authorizes border wall construction and advanced technology border security. It secures ports of entry, adds 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 5,000 Customs and Border Protection officers. It authorizes use of the National Guard for aviation and intelligence support of border security.

The bill further cracks down on sanctuary cities, facilitates cooperation with local law enforcement, includes “Kate’s Law” to increase penalties for deported criminals who return and addresses visa overstays.

“Years of lax enforcement policies have wreaked havoc on our borders. Millions of people have been allowed to flout our immigration laws. We can’t let these dangerous and foolish policies to continue,” Goodlatte said in introducing the bill.

Introducing the bill with him were Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas; House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subchairman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho; and Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subchairwoman Martha McSally, R-Ariz.

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