EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

August 18, 2013

Column: Farmers grow impatient for immigration reform

(Continued)

But many others in Congress are discouraged: A majority of House Republicans do not want 11 million undocumented workers in the United States to have a path to citizenship. They say that would reward illegal transit into the country and want to focus more attention on expensive border security.

Farmers complain that even if workers can be found in sufficient numbers, they are nowhere near as productive as longtime farm workers who are getting too old to work or returning home, often unwillingly, in the wake of “immigration inspections.” Some farmers break down weeping after they have been forced to fire families they have known for decades.

If not solved, the shortage of farm workers could cause an increase in food prices.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said that if the House does not pass a comprehensive immigration bill this year, U.S. agriculture will suffer. He is hoping that American voters will put pressure on legislators while they are home for the August break.

In addition to a lack of employment security for migrant workers and assurance that farmers will have a source of reliable labor, the Obama administration says it is getting reports that some producers are moving fruit and vegetable productions overseas because of a shortage of farm workers.

In the United States, the government estimates there are an estimated 1.1 million crop and livestock workers, about half of whom are not authorized to be in the country. Some private estimates have the percentage as high as 70 percent.

House Republicans do not seem to be focusing on farmers’ problems. Meeting to try to unite on a message, they have been trying to figure out how to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare (the House has voted unsuccessfully to repeal it 40 times). And they are frantic about whether TV networks producing documentaries on Hillary Clinton should be banned from covering presidential debates in 2016 if she is a candidate.

Somehow, as farmers worry about their 2013 harvests rotting in the fields, what happens in the 2016 debates doesn’t seem that important.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

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