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Ag Guest-Worker Bill Fails    06/21 15:12

   House Rejects Immigration Bill With Agricultural Worker Overhaul Included

   The legislative failure of an immigration bill leaves agricultural employers 
with the current H-2A program run by the U.S. Department of Labor, which many 
farm groups have criticized as laborious and impractical in farm operations 
that need ag labor year-round.

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

   OMAHA (DTN) --- In yet another legislative debacle in the ongoing U.S. 
immigration debate, the House of Representatives defeated a conservative 
immigration bill that included provisions that would have overhauled the 
agricultural guest-worker program. 

   HR 4760, the "Immigration and Border Security Act," went down in defeat 
193-231 as 41 Republicans joined all 190 Democrats to vote against the bill.

   The failure leaves agricultural employers with the current H-2A temporary 
ag-labor program run by the U.S. Department of Labor, which many farm groups 
have criticized as laborious and impractical in farm operations that need ag 
labor year-round. It also leaves potentially hundreds of thousands of current 
agricultural workers as undocumented and at risk of deportation. 

   Debate leading up to the vote was emotional with Democrats assailing the 
legislation based upon overall immigration restrictions in the bill and 
President Donald Trump's immigration policies that separated children from 
parents. Republicans backing the bill talked about language to tighten border 
security, such as building a wall, while the bill would legalize the Deferred 
Action for Childhood Arrivals youth, though the 1.8 million or so DACA 
recipients and Dreamers would not have been granted a pathway to citizenship. 

   House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the bill "a compromise 
with the devil."  

   House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who brought two 
separate bills to the House floor on Thursday, said farmers have been 
struggling to maintain labor in recent years. He cited a survey from the 
California Farm Bureau last fall showing more than two-thirds of farmers in 
that state were facing chronic labor shortages. 

   "The labor force status quo is clearly unsustainable for American 
agriculture," Goodlatte said.

   In the midst of the debate early Thursday afternoon, the American Farm 
Bureau Federation issued a news release citing that its board of directors 
voted unanimously to support HR 4760 because of the agricultural-labor 
provisions. 

   "The American Farm Bureau board was resolute and unanimous in its support of 
these agricultural labor reforms," said Zippy Duvall, AFBF's president. "Those 
provisions authorize a new agricultural guest-worker program, and they go a 
long way toward fixing the biggest problem we face in agriculture -- a shortage 
of agricultural labor that limits our ability to produce food, fiber and fuel."

   HR 4760 would have created a new ag-worker program, dubbed H-2C, which would 
allow farmers and other employers to bring in 410,000 foreign workers for farm 
jobs as well as 40,000 foreign workers for meatpacking plants and other 
agricultural processing businesses. The provisions also shift oversight of the 
agricultural guest-worker program from the Department of Labor to USDA. 

   Undocumented farmworkers already in the United States also could have gained 
legal status by enrolling in the H-2C program, although they would have had to 
leave the United States and apply for re-entry. The bill also would have 
required farmers to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring new workers. 

   After defeating the bill, House members dove right into another immigration 
bill that does not include any agricultural guest-worker provisions. HR 6136 
would include $25 billion for a wall along the southern border and make it 
harder to immigrate into the U.S. by ending the visa lottery program. The bill 
also would legalize DACA recipients, but also scraps visa lotteries and 
tightens the ability of a person to enter the country legally. In addition, the 
bill would spell out a law to keep families together when parents and children 
are apprehended at the border, but includes new funding for new facilities to 
house families being prosecuted for illegal entry into the country. 

   The vote on that bill, however, was delayed until Friday as Republican 
leaders seek to convince wayward GOP members to vote for the bill instead of 
opposing it. 

   Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com 

   Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN 


(SK/AG)

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