If you ran your farm or ranch like the White House and Congress run the federal government, your corn would never get planted and your cows would be long gone.
Of course, if you ran your farm or ranch anywhere near the level of — what? — the scornful divisiveness and almost pure reactionary politics that now guide Congress and the White House you wouldn’t be ranching or farming today. You’d be long gone like the corn and the cows. Long, long gone.
But here we all are — you, me, Congress, the President — someplace in between “No!” and “Hell, no!” and now we’re fighting it out on one of the nation’s biggest, most intractable problems: immigration reform.
Crazy, right? Well, no.
In fact, there’s no shortage of workable immigration ideas already packaged and partly approved. First there’s the sweeping, bipartisan Senate deal from June 2013, where 14 Republicans (including doctrinaire conservatives such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte) joined Democratic and Independent colleagues to pass immigration reform by a lopsided 68-32 margin. (Links to source material are posted at http://farmandfoodfile.com/in-the-news/.)
Unlike the White House’s recent announcement of executive actions that so offended Congress’s GOP leaders, the Senate bill contains a winding, 13-year path to U.S. citizenship for current illegals and would require stiff security tests for any immigrant to receive the key to legal employment, a green card.
Then there’s the incendiary White House action that uses the President’s executive authority to, as Wall Street Journal reports, “shield as many as five million illegal immigrants from deportation and offer them a chance for work permits, while overhauling the enforcement system and boosting border security…”
Both approaches — the left- and right-handed Senate approach and the heavy-handed White House approach — is, at some level, pretty much what immigration reformers say the United States has long needed: a way to at least “legalize” the work these “illegals” workers perform; more border security to limit illegal immigration; and a simple recognition that we are not going to deport the 11 million illegals already here.
Indeed, we can’t deport the 11 million illegals here because we’re too cheap. For years, Congress has appropriated only enough money to find, process and deport “some 400,000 … or less 4 percent” per year of the illegals living in the United States, according to Stephen Legomsky, the former chief counsel in charge of immigration for the Department of Homeland Security.
Given that tiny, not-growing budget, he notes, enforcement rightly focuses on “those who threaten public safety,” criminals, suspected terrorists and recent arrivals.
In a very big way, however, American farmers and ranchers depend on that lax enforcement. Current estimates show that U.S. farms and ranches now employ as many as 3 million immigrants and — again, best guess — anywhere from 500,000 to 1.75 million of these workers are in the country illegally.
These are the mostly brown hands of the mostly unseen men, women and children that touch our lives several times each day. They pick our fruit, harvest our fresh vegetables, milk our cows, shepherd our flocks, slaughter our livestock and poultry, mow our lawns, do our housework and landscape our backyards.
And they do it, legally and illegally, from Maine to California, Minnesota to Texas. Without their labor, legal and illegal, our hugely productive farm and food sector wouldn’t be productive, let alone hugely productive.
An even greater truth is that these workers, legal and illegal combined, are far from adequate today. Labor experts guess that hundreds of thousands more workers are needed in today’s fast-growing “fresh” food market. Expanding today’s authorized “legal” guest-worker program, the H-2A, won’t solve the problem. Employers complain it is confusing, bureaucratic and to be avoided.
That leads to more illegal hiring of more illegal immigrants.
The fix to this all-but certain future is plain: our political leaders need to do what we hired them to do — lead. Enough already with the showdowns, shutdowns and putdowns. Initiate, negotiate, legislate.
Fix it. Now.
Alan Guebert’s “Farm and Food File” is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact him at email@example.com. Past columns, news and events are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.