Moving immigration reform forward, even after the election, will require work. It’s paramount that dairy producers talk to friends and neighbors to explain the need for a legal, documented immigrant work force.
The bad news, if it’s even news, is that national, comprehensive immigration reform isn’t going to happen this year.
That was the consensus of a panel of two former congressmen and a former assistant secretary of the Department of Labor speaking at the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley last week. Participating were Bob Beauprez, a rancher and former congressman from Colorado’s 7th District; John Salazar, Commissioner of Colorado’s Department of Agriculture and former member of Congress; and Leon Sequeira, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration.
“If you’re pushing for a comprehensive bill, it’s not going to happen this year because it gets wrapped around the axel of endless debate,” says Beauprez.
That’s primarily due to 2012 being an election year. Politicians like nothing better than to have an issue like immigration reform to harangue their opponents and mobilize their base of support. Plus, the current high unemployment rate simply will not allow politicians to pass legislation that might increase the flow of even more workers into the country or make things easier for the 8 or 10 or 12 million undocumented workers who are already here.
But there are rays of hope for 2013. “If President Obama wins re-election, he will push for comprehensive reform. And if a Republican wins, whoever that might be, there will be a push for some reform in an attempt to rebuild the Hispanic voter base,” says Sequeira.
“The attitudes of Congress and their staffs have evolved, and in a good way,” adds Beauprez. “The possibility of change is increasing.”
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar says one way forward is the Utah Compact, signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in 2010, and endorsed by all 50 state departments of agriculture. It holds five principles:
• Federal solutions, not state by state.
• Local law enforcement should focus on criminal activities, with civil violations of federal code left to federal agencies.
• Intact families, opposing policies that cause unnecessary separations.
• Free market economies, best served by immigration policy that reaffirm a global reputation for being welcoming and business friendly.
• A free society that integrates immigrants into communities.
“And really, who can argue with this,” Salazar says. Immigration reforms, he says, should require strong borders and no path to citizenship for persons here illegally. But if they are here, Salazar believes they should be allowed to apply for a two-year visa if they pass a background check, pay any back taxes due and pay a small, reasonable fine for coming here illegally.
Moving immigration reform forward, even after the election, will require work. Beauprez believes agriculture must first be united in its commitment to immigration reform. It must begin now, in 2012, to form broader coalitions of industries—construction, home builders, service providers such as hotels and restaurants, golf courses, landscapers—any industry which has come to rely on immigrant labor.
Next, farmers must talk with their local bankers, merchants, friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners about the need for reform. “Rural areas poll anti-immigration most strongly,” says Sequeira, who has also served as legal counsel for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., and current Senate minority leader). “Any time immigration reform would come up, we’d get calls 100 to 1 against reform.”
So it’s paramount, he says, that dairy producers talk to friends and neighbors to explain the need for a legal, documented immigrant work force. The economies of many rural communities depend on these folks to do the hard, monotonous work of agriculture.
Small dairy producers are often the harshest critics of immigration reform. They think that if these workers go away, large farms that rely on them will go away as well. That’s incredibly short-sighted.
Farms with more than 200 cows now produce 75% of all milk in this country. If they go away, yes, milk prices might increase in the short term. But soon, processing capacity and supporting infrastructure will wither away. Dairy producers of all sizes must understand that they’re all in this together.
Once they do, dairy producers must lobby their legislators hard for reform. You can’t rely on farm organizations or co-ops or the National Milk Producers Federation to do it. You have to do it. You have to make the call.