The bipartisan proposal unveiled Monday paves the way to legalization of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants with a program described as “tough but fair.”
It also addresses the concerns of the agricultural industry, whose labor pool by some estimates is composed of some 50 to 70 percent unauthorized workers.
“Agricultural workers who commit to the long-term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population because of the role they play in ensuring that Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume,” states the proposal.
Total farmworkers in Imperial County fluctuated between 8,000 and 11,000 in 2012, according to data from the Employment Development Department.
“There’s definitely recognition that agriculture will be taken care of,” said Steve Scaroni, a Heber farmer who has lobbied Washington extensively on immigration reform.
The proposal is based on four broad principles: a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, reform of the system to capitalize on characteristics that strengthen the economy, the creation of an effective employment verification system and improving the immigration process for future workers.
The principles are broad and many details need to be worked out.
“The principles acknowledge that the situation in agriculture is distinct and requires different treatment,” said Craig Regelbrugge, chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, a group that represents the landscape and nursery industry.
Access to a legal and stable work force is vital, Regelbrugge said, as is a workable program that eliminates or reduces hurdles for a future work force.
“We would like to see the agriculture legalization program attractive so there are incentives for them to work in the sector,” Regelbrugge noted.
The proposals also acknowledge that the United States immigration system is broken, and address criticism that not enough is being done to enforce existing immigration laws. To that end, Monday’s proposals are contingent on secure borders.
But, the acknowledgement of the agriculture sector’s needs allows for some optimism.
“As long as the labor supply solutions are there, we can support the enforcement solutions,” Regelbrugge said.
Staff Writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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