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Immigration Reform: California Farmers Say Labor Is at Stake

May 21, 2013
By: Tyne Morgan, Ag Day TV National Reporter

Hands trained and true, another new crop for a man ripe with experience. While searching for the perfect cherry, it’s his passion for immigration reform that lies close to his heart.

"I know how important they are to ag," says California fruit and vegetable grower Joe Del Bosque. "I've been on both sides. I've been in the field picking the crops. I've been in the pickup being the grower."

His family came to the land of opportunity during World War II. Growing up, picking crops at his parents’ feet, his drive to farm runs deep. He now owns a large vegetable and fruit operation selling produce to major chains like Whole Foods.

"The farmers need the workers to pick these crops, and the workers need the farmers to work for and to make their living," he says.

The immigration reform debate is heating up in Washington, D.C. The Senate version could make its way out of committee early this week. Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says it could be on the Senate floor by mid-June. He believes more changes need to be made to the bill before he’ll support it, namely securing U.S. borders.

"So far, this bill doesn’t have enough border security in it," says Grassley. "In other words, the border is leaking; if you don’t stop the leak, what good is it going to do to pass an immigration bill? We’re right back where we were in 1986 when we passed a bill, thought we secured the border. We didn’t. Now, instead of having 3 million people here, as we did in 1986, we have 12 million people that are undocumented."

According to asparagus grower Barb Cecchini, that’s not the answer. She says as the borders become more secure, that essential workforce just isn’t there.

"We are having labor shortages heavier than we've ever seen," she says. "So that means we're going to have to let go about a third of our acres. We've only harvested for about six weeks. We usually harvest for 90 to 100 days."

The current Senate version calls for a path to citizenship for thousands of undocumented farm workers. With so many questions still surrounding the details of it all, Cecchini is skeptical about both immigration reform bills on the table today. She says while it means the workforce already in the U.S. remains, it’s the future that holds the most concern.

She says area farmers need a steady flow of workers coming to the U.S. when the crop is prime for picking, and in her opinion, the proposed legislation doesn’t ensure that.

"I don't think the immigration reform bill that's there is really going to help us," she says. "I think it's just going to be so cumbersome and so expensive, that we're not going to be growing crops that are labor-intensive."

While groups like the United Farm Workers of America and California Farm Bureau know the legislation isn’t perfect, they feel it’s better than the current system.

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RELATED TOPICS: Policy, News, Immigration

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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

spragumi - Red Cloud, NE
You're preaching to the choir. Have Jeff Sessions from 'Bama read your article.

P.S. I watch AGDay every morning at 5am at the gym.

Michael Sprague
Red Cloud, Nebraska
5:01 AM May 22nd



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