By Catherine Merlo
At least three major Arizona agricultural groups aren't pleased with the new immigration law the state passed last Friday.
"We're pretty disappointed Arizona went to this extreme,” said Wendy Fink-Weber, director of communications for Western Growers Association, a trade organization with 2,500 members in California and Arizona. Its members grow, pack and ship about half of the nation's fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables.
"The only good thing that may come out of this is that perhaps it will push the federal government and Congress to do something about an area of labor that needs to be addressed,” Fink-Weber said.
Fink-Weber said the produce industry has always been upfront and honest in acknowledging that many farm laborers are in the U.S. illegally, and too many have false documentation.
"We want a legal workforce,” she said.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the controversial immigration bill April 23, saying it will help the state solve a crisis that the federal government has refused to fix. The new law will require anyone whom police suspect of being in the country illegally to produce "an alien registration document," such as a green card, or other proof of citizenship such as a passport or Arizona driver's license.
The new law is "problematic” and "not the way to solve” the issues of immigration and border control, said Joe Sigg, director of government relations with the Arizona Farm Bureau.
"We rely heavily on immigrant labor in Arizona,” said Sigg. "We have to be able to recruit the labor,” but that may become more difficult with the anti-immigrant reputation Arizona could develop as a result of the legislation.
The uproar over the new law, which has drawn international attention and calls for boycotting business with Arizona, might "in a perverse way, encourage federal efforts on border security.” Sigg said.
"We need federal reform that takes care of borders, work visas and those here who are not properly documented,” he added.
Mike Billotte, vice president of government affairs for United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA), said the new law was "a draconian measure” that won't likely do much to move the federal government toward much-needed, comprehensive immigration reform anytime soon. "There is just too much political machinery” for that to happen, Billotte said.
UDA is a milk marketing cooperative that represents about 90% of Arizona's milk production.
Billotte was also concerned that backlash from the new law "could have a far-reaching effect on the Arizona economy.”
Arizona's new immigration law "is very punitive and will have an impact on the state's labor force,” said Bob Grey, executive director of the Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperative.
Whether the Arizona law will speed efforts at federal immigration and guest-worker reform is doubtful, Grey added. Key players in the U.S. Senate have predicted nothing will get done on the dual issues until after the 2012 Presidential election.
Undertaking federal immigration and guest-worker reform "is heavy political lifting,” Grey said.
Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.