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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 Goals.

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immigration reform and agriculture

Immigration Reform and Agriculture

Craig J. Regelbrugge, Co-chair

Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform

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

  • 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
what is acir
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
hired farm workforce in u s
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…
we didn t get here overnight
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
why do farmworkers leave
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.
are foreign workers taking jobs from americans
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)
the rest of the story
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
labor shortage
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
  • 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
risks to the sector ny study
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
outlook for reform
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
ag s position in the debate
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
agjobs in brief
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
high hopes high hurdles
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
yet we have assets
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
other dynamics
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?”
  • Grassroots action/political education
  • Economic impact insights
  • Favorable media
  • Community outreach
where is the american public
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
how can farm credit help
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
ronald reagan radio address
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…”