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Immigration Reform and Agriculture. Craig J. Regelbrugge, Co-chair Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform V.P. Gov’t Relations, Amer. Nursery & Landscape Assn [email protected] Goals.

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Immigration Reform and Agriculture

Craig J. Regelbrugge, Co-chair

Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform

V.P. Gov’t Relations, Amer. Nursery & Landscape Assn

[email protected]


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Goals

  • Offer a national perspective on immigration reform and the realities facing labor-intensive agriculture

  • Explore nature and scope of the challenge, and implications

  • Provide an outlook for both meaningful reform, negative developments

  • Discuss how farm credit community can help


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What is “ACIR”?

  • Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform

  • Formed in 2001 to lead effort to negotiate, enact bipartisan reform legislation

  • Over 300 national, regional, state groups whose members are engaged in all facets of labor-intensive agriculture: fruit, vegetable, dairy and livestock, nursery & greenhouse


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Hired Farm Workforce in U.S.

  • 1.6 million “serious” farmworkers

  • 80% foreign born

  • ~70% unauthorized

  • IRCA-1986

    • Legalized 1.2 million farmworkers

    • Launched statistical gathering

    • We know more about demographics of farm labor force than remainder of economy…


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We Didn’t Get Here Overnight

  • 1989: 7% of farmworkers admitted in gov’t surveys that they were not authorized to work in the U.S.

  • 1994: 34%

  • 1998: 52%

  • Each year, 1 in 6 farmworkers new to the sector, and 99% are unauthorized

  • Lack of legal channels has led to the crisis


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Why Do Farmworkers Leave?

  • Wages? Not so much…

  • Nature of work

    • Entry level, seasonal, intermittent

    • Physically demanding, difficult

  • Tighter border has had opposite of intended effect by encouraging long-term settlement, search for year-round work

    • See “Backfire at the Border” by Douglas Massey, Princeton Univ.


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Are Foreign Workers Taking Jobs from Americans?

  • Through 1990’s, American economy produced hundreds of thousands of jobs each year in excess of Americans entering job market and legal immigration

  • Domestic workers – and many foreign workers – were “sucked out” of agriculture

  • Foreign workers filled the void

  • Only legal channel—H-2A—fills less than 2% of farm jobs (4.6% in NY)


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The Rest of the Story…

  • Employers meet requirements of the law at time of hiring (I-9 process)

  • Over time, best workers promoted into key positions, year-round jobs. Backbone of industry

  • Any reform solution must address this aspect of the workforce or agriculture will be devastated



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Labor Shortage?

  • Some superficial reports say “no”

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise:

    • Quarter of NoCal pear crop lost 2006

    • 1 million lbs asparagus in MI lost 2007

    • Labor force “triage”

  • Broader analysis (1990-2002) shows:

    • 29% increase in labor productivity in crop production

    • 15.4% increase in output

    • 9.2% decrease in labor input


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And…

  • Considering global picture, U.S. is steadily losing market share in specialty crops

    • Nearly one third of fresh fruit and one fifth of fresh vegetables consumed in U.S. are now imported

    • This is double to more than double the market share of imports in 1990

    • Growing market overall is masking erosion of U.S. producers’ market share


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Risks to the Sector: NY Study

  • NY Farm Credit Associations studied risks of enforcement-only approach. At high risk are:

    • Over 800 dairy, nursery, fruit, vegetable farms with at least $700 million in sales

    • 750,000 acres of farmland subject to conversion to less profitable crops or taken out of production altogether

    • Almost 16,000 non-farm but farm-dependent jobs, especially in rural areas


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Outlook for Reform

  • Unique Ag history, position

    • Ag first to admit problem, seek solution

    • Commitment to bipartisan approach after guest-worker-only efforts failed

    • Successful negotiation of landmark AgJOBS bills in 2003

    • AgJOBS passed Senate in 2006, was feature of comprehensive bill in 2007, still pending as S.340 and H.R. 371


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Ag’s Position in the Debate

  • Many policymakers see ag as different

    • Jobs Americans least likely to fill

    • Food security, national security

    • Longstanding bipartisan agreement vs. hasty closed negotiation

  • Some support incremental or “pilot” approach

    • Addressing agriculture would allow for testing of approaches, distribution of workload


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AgJOBS in Brief

  • Long-term solution by reforming H-2A

    • Streamline, simplify process

    • Legal reform, Wage relief

  • “Bridge” or transition via “Blue Card”

    • experienced workers could earn eventual status subject to strict conditions

    • ~800,000 workers expected to qualify

    • Especially attractive for dairy industry

  • Structure important politically, substantively


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High Hopes, High Hurdles

  • Post-Senate failure, many see immigration as “off the table”

  • Collapsing middle, wedge politics (whether a good idea or not…)

  • Complications of wide-open presidential contest


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Yet, We Have Assets

  • Considerable support, highly motivated champions

  • Chance to move as “pilot” ahead of comprehensive reform

  • Some potential for “rifle-shot” or smart, lean bill early in 2008


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Other Dynamics

  • Social Security No-Match Rule

  • Bush Admin Regulatory Reform of H-2A

  • Enforcement-only bills

    • H.R. 4088 now has over 130 cosponsors

  • Raids, even rumor of raids

  • Epidemic of state and local laws

    • “Innovation labs or race to the bottom?”


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Needs

  • Grassroots action/political education

  • Economic impact insights

  • Favorable media

  • Community outreach


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Where Is the American Public?

  • Most polls, evidence suggest:

    • Small but vocal minority (~20%)

    • Concerned but pragmatic majority (60 to 75%)

    • Key challenge: sound bytes easier for seal-the-border and deport restrictionists

    • Key issues: sense of fair play, real solutions


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How Can Farm Credit Help?

  • Economic Analysis: inform the debate by developing analysis of risks of inaction or unwise action (e.g., enforcement only)

  • NY Farm Credit methodology…

  • Media: Who can speak out? Farm Credit well positioned to organize press outreach, position spokespeople

  • Grassroots: Inform networks about www.saveUSfarms.org


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Ronald Reagan Radio Address:

“One thing is certain in this hungry world: no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for a lack of harvesters…”



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