April 19, 2013
AgriNotes & News
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Immigration proposal a breakthrough for agriculture

lettuce harvest

Contact: Ryan Findlay, 800-292-2680, ext. 2025

LANSING, APRIL 19, 2013 — An immigration reform proposal introduced this week in the U.S. Senate has Michigan's largest farm organization dusting off its cautious optimism. Debuted April 17, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act includes two key features that've long been on farmers' wish list.

"First, there's a guest worker program, which would allow farmers unable to hire local labor to legally bring in foreign workers," said Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB). "Second, there are provisions for currently undocumented workers to continue working here legally for five to seven years."

Beyond that point, Findlay said, such workers would have an option to apply for a green card, which would allow them to work legally in any American industry.

The measure will go to the full Senate following examination by its judiciary committee, which today indicated it would begin amending the bill in May. A similar measure is expected to be introduced soon in the House of Representatives.

"This is a really big deal, especially for our fruit and vegetable growers, and for the dairy industry," Findlay said. "There is currently no program for dairy farmers to hire foreign guest workers. Under this legislation, if they have a need and they can't fill it domestically—locally—then they can legally go abroad."

While a timeline for the bill's progress is impossible to determine at this early stage, industry leaders will be keeping a close eye on its development over the coming months. Even on a relatively fast track, the foreign guest worker provision of the legislation wouldn't take effect until 2016, leaving farmers nationwide still struggling with the current system for another few years.

Michigan farmers this year are facing unprecedented labor uncertainty. In the wake of the 2012 fruit disaster, which caused thousands of workers to seek work elsewhere, Michigan fruit and vegetable growers are concerned there may not be a sufficient supply of labor to tend and harvest this year's crops.

"Since 1986, farm employers have faced one enforcement issue after another," Findlay said. "Finally we have a proactive piece of legislation that will ensure farmers have an adequate, legal workforce—not just in the next couple of years, but in the long term."

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