Friday, 16 August 2013

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Pro-Growth and Pro-Agriculture (Commentary)

As the harvest season intensifies here in New York, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the enormous impact that farming has on our statewide economy and the critical importance of common sense immigration reform to the continued success of our farms.

The great diversity of agricultural production in this state requires a skilled and dedicated workforce to get farm products from the fields, orchards and barns to the homes and businesses of all New Yorkers. Our upstate communities and economies are sustained by strength of this dynamic local food system.

Immigration reform is very important for farmers, farm workers and communities across rural America. The majority of our agriculture workforce is made up of immigrants, and their hard work has helped AEarlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a commonsense immigration reform measure in a strongly bipartisan fashion. This was an important step in the right direction. The historic legislation passed by the Senate provides a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million people who are in our country today without authorization. They will have to go to the back of the line, pay fines and settle taxes they owe our nation.

It would modernize the system that we use to bring skilled workers into the United States. And it would put in place the toughest border security plan that America has ever seen - building on steps that have reduced illegal border crossings to their lowest level in decades.

This bill is also important for rural America. Recently, the White House economic team released a new report highlighting the positive economic benefits that commonsense immigration reform would provide for agriculture and rural communities.
The report highlights research showing that without a stable workforce, America's record agricultural productivity will decline in coming years. In New York, for example, eliminating the immigrant labor force would cost more than $175 million in short-term production losses.

The Senate bill addresses this concern by taking much-needed steps to ensure a stable agricultural workforce, and a fair system for U.S. producers and farm workers. In particular, it would give qualifying farm workers an expedited path to earned citizenship, as long as they continue to work in agriculture. A new temporary worker program would replace the current H-2A visa program over time, and allow farm workers a three-year visa to work year-round in any agricultural job.

This common sense system wouldn't just prevent a decline in production - it would grow the economy. Research highlighted in the White House report projects that an expanded temporary worker program would increase both production and exports across our agriculture sector.

Under the Senate proposal, USDA would play a greater role in implementing farm labor programs and ensuring that farmers and ranchers have all the information they need. As Congress continues to work on this issue, Secretary Vilsack and all of us at USDA are committed to working with lawmakers to be sure they have any technical assistance they might need to finalize these proposals.

To remain competitive and keep driving economic growth in rural America, we need rules that work. Rural America needs Congress to act as soon as possible to carry forward the work of the U.S. Senate and fix today's broken immigration system.merica's farmers and ranchers feed the country.
Original Article Here

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