Frustrated farmers across the country are urging Congress to temporarily legalize hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant field workers to solve the labor shortage crisis in the embattled agriculture industry, The Wall Street Journal reported
The farmers have also called on Washington to give work permits to undocumented field workers who are not covered under President Barack Obama’s plan to halt the deportation process of nearly 5 million illegal immigrants.
According to the United Farmworkers Union, there are around 250,000 farm workers who could be eligible for deportation relief under Obama’s executive order, which is a fraction of the overall number of illegal immigrants working in the fields, the Journal said.
The farmers are hoping that a congressional fix to Obama’s plan, which does not directly target their industry, would entice undocumented field workers to remain in agriculture, while also guaranteeing a steady influx of seasonal workers without having to face visa problems at the border.
“Our concern is they (lawmakers) are so busy pointing fingers at each other they won’t get down to business,” said Ed Schoen, a New York dairy farmer and board member of the Dairy Farmers of America, which represents a third of U.S. dairy farmers.
Obama’s executive order has been attacked by the farming industry over concerns that thousands of immigrants who were given amnesty would give up toiling in the nation’s fields and look for better paid positions in the booming oil and construction industries, the newspaper said.
“The way Obama went about this is going to further devastate agriculture. We are going to lose labor,” said Steve Scaroni, a labor contractor who operates in Salinas, California, and Yuma, Arizona.
And Ralph Broetje, a Washington state apple grower who employs 2,000 workers, mostly immigrants, said that he’s optimistic that the controversy over Obama’s unilateral immigration measures will help the farming industry.
“Hopefully, this motivates them to come together to work on a fix to the broken immigration laws,” he said.
And Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, which represents hundreds of farmers in California and Arizona, noted that agriculture is “in jeopardy,” while saying, “these actions by the president should also serve as a catalyst for Congress to lead.”
The U.S. Department of Labor has estimated that more than half of all field workers are immigrants, while farmer groups believe the figure is closer to 70 percent, the Journal noted. The average age of farm workers is 37, according to government data.
The inability of Congress to come up with a solution to the immigration crisis, specifically involving the farming industry, is beginning to cause a backlash against Republicans, the Journal added.
Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, told the paper: “I’m personally aware of farmers and small-business people who would normally support Republicans but have ceased political contributions generally, out of frustration over Congress’ inability to find common ground and solve the problem.”
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