Saturday, August 17, 2013


[This Op-Ed piece appeared August 15, 2013 in the Fresno BEE newspaper.  It gives a superb perspective from California farmers on needed immigration reform.]

We are farmers in in the Central Valley. There is nothing we want more than to bring to your families fresh, nutritious food.In order to do that, we need a legal and reliable workforce.

Our country's immigration system is broken and needs reform. Most Americans, but especially most farmers and ranchers, heartily agree with this statement.

Inaction in Washington has brought us to this point, and it will take action from our elected leaders to build a solution. This is especially important as the House of Representatives begins the process of considering immigration legislation over the coming months.

For many in agriculture the biggest challenge we face today is finding the farmworkers we need to run our farms and ranches. After all, it does not matter what Mother Nature throws at you if you do not have the help to pick crops or care for animals through good years and bad. This is a challenge that is faced by farmers all over the country, and most especially here in California — America's No. 1 agriculture-producing state.

It is an issue that impacts communities beyond the farm gate however, since each of the 1.4 million or so farmworkers in the U.S. supports two or three jobs in other industry sectors.

Between 60% and 70% of this work force is unauthorized to work in the U.S., although these workers typically show us documents that appear genuine. We need these workers because not enough documented workers apply for these jobs and machines have not been invented that can pick a peach, a melon or stalk of celery with the necessary care required.

We need a skilled, stable work force we can depend on — one that is here in the U.S. legally. If we cannot find enough workers, farmers will be forced to reduce domestic production or go out of business due to labor shortages and high costs.

The fruits and vegetables requiring hand labor will have to be imported, thus raising prices for consumers, greatly increasing transportation miles and making it difficult to preserve the freshness of this perishable, fresh food.

Farmers often pay significantly more than minimum wage, yet we still have extreme difficulty finding workers. In many cases, it is not the money that makes these jobs unappealing to many Americans. Rather, the seasonal and often migratory nature of the work and the fact that it must be done outside in all kinds of weather are the primary reasons it is extremely difficult to find U.S. workers to do these jobs at any wage.

To respond to this need, a group of about 70 organizations representing agricultural employers across the country came together, forming the Agricultural Workforce Coalition (AWC), to speak with one voice and to find a path forward on immigration reform.

The AWC also came together with the United Farm Workers (UFW) union this past spring to unite both employer and employee behind a proposal to help ensure America's farmers have access to a stable and secure work force.

That proposal also addresses border security and by no means offers amnesty to those already living and working in the country. Rather, existing workers would be put on "probation," requiring them to register with the federal government, undergo a criminal background check, and if no criminal convictions are found, they would pay a fine and receive provisional legal status or a blue card.

They would not qualify for federal health benefits for 10 years nor get Social Security credits for any work performed under a Social Security number that doesn't belong to them.

We hope that the general principles of this agreement would be carried through in any legislation dealing with agricultural workers in the House of Representatives.

Any program should deal with current experienced agricultural workers as well as provide for agriculture's future work force needs with a practical guest-worker visa program. We employ many good workers who have been in the U.S. for years, pay their taxes, and have homes, families and no criminal history. They may be forced out of a productive life if our congressional representatives cannot come together on immigration reform.

We urge the House of Representatives to act on this pressing need and get to conference with the U.S. Senate on immigration legislation that will provide American farmers, consumers and workers with an effective immigration system.

[Fred LoBue Jr., of Lindsay; Carol Chandler, of Selma; John Harris, of Coalinga; Harold McClarty, of Kingsburg; and Steve Patricio, of Firebaugh are members of the Western Growers' Board of Directors. Copyright 2013.]