Farm and Food: Unfinished business: immigration reform | National News

Like the weather, everyone is talking about immigration reform but few are doing much about it.

In fact, doing nothing is the dominant feature of immigration legislation. A Google search for the phrase “ag immigration stalemate” “returns about 621,000 results in 0.61 seconds” at least as far back as the mid-1990s.

However, there was a moment of momentum last summer when key US senators announced they were close to an immigration deal based on the 2021 House-passed bill. The bipartisan bill “paves the way for foreign farm workers to gain legal status for year-round work,” a critical requirement for progress on the immigration bill, Politico reported last July.

But the effort soon stalled for two very Capitol Hill reasons: an election-year Senate briefing and border security. Senate Republicans have repeatedly warned most Democrats that there will be no immigration legislation without accompanying legislation to close the US-Mexico border.

Pushing the Senate effort even deeper into the background was Republicans’ hopes of winning the House and Senate in November. This double win would deliver a double whammy on immigration: Every current bill would die at the end of the congressional session and, more importantly, the GOP would write a tough, narrow replacement.

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The Republicans’ wafer-thin 222-213 House victory lost its luster, however, after Senate Dems picked up 50 of their seats and added one. This division of Congress points to little compromise on many issues over the next two years and all but guarantees failure on immigration reform.

Undermining those prospects is an apparent split among House Republicans over who will lead them when they regain the majority on Jan. 3. According to reports, Kevin McCarthy of California did not close the 218 votes he needed to claim the speakership.

No speaker means no legislation, and no legislation means Republicans have a long way to go to elect a leader.

Sensing an opening at the end of the year ahead of the Republican takeover of Congress, Democrat-led Senate immigration reform efforts, Michael Bennett of Colorado, released the immigration bill on December 15. Bennett’s bill, like the bipartisan 2021 House bill, has features. Everything — and, frankly, more — that both parties say they need any reform legislation.

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“Everything” was the easy part; However, “too much” hindered the chances of the law being implemented.

For example, both the GOP and Dems agree that the crucial H-2A program, the temporary visa program that many farmers and ranchers rely on for legal, seasonal immigrant workers, will be extended for three years. Bennett’s bull increased the current figure to 26,000, half reserved for dairy work. Then the number of visas increased by 15% per year for the next six years.

These growing numbers were a major reason why the National Milk Producers Federation quickly endorsed Bennett’s bill.

Other ag powerhouses, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, want even more visas now — and later — than Bennett’s proposed plan. But more visas, migrant worker groups argued, meant a larger labor pool and, as a result, lower wages for farmers.

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Another sticking point — in both Bennett’s efforts and the new 2023 bill — was a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrant workers and their families. Republicans call each way “amnesty,” heating up reform talks with political fire.

But while the current Senate bill had a path to citizenship, it was too long. In fact, according to Colorado Public Radio, Bennett’s bill “created a program for farmers and their families to gain legal status after 10 years of work.”

“It’s definitely not instant citizenship or anything like that,” a United Farm Workers union spokesman told the Boise State.

Of course not, but a long citizenship timeline wasn’t something that bothered most Republicans. That was the concept itself. They just don’t want any way.

Bennett said his bill’s reforms were “debatable.” Its passage before the end of the year would be “better for American agriculture … family farms … farmers … and our country.”

All true, and all very difficult; Bennett’s bill was not included in the year-end budget deal.

That means the best hope for immigration reform is years away.


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