I have written before about the relationship between agriculture and immigrant workers. Throughout the United States, farmers and ranchers have grown to depend on both documented and undocumented immigrant workers in order to sustain profitability. It's not surprising then, that any realistic immigration reform bill brought to Congress will need to address this issue.
State lawmakers have become increasingly apt to consider taking immigration reform into their own hands. One example of this is the recent trip that state agricultural leaders made to the U.S.-Mexico border in May. An article describing the trip was posted on the Mississippi Business Journal website. The group traveled to Texas and during the meetings, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner, Cindy Hyde-Smith stated that “they are more convinced than ever of the need for immigration reform after a tour of border security operations in the Rio Grande Valley.”
In total, there were eight state agriculture commissioners who met with Texas Commissioner Todd Staples at a Border Patrol station near the Rio Grande in South Texas. Each are well aware of the need for farmers and ranchers to have a dependable workforce. However, they saw things a bit differently after “standing behind glass above a warren of holding cells packed well beyond capacity with 1,000 immigrants.”
Although the bipartisan delegation has notified the public that a new guest worker program would be proposed that would “provide American farms and businesses the legal workers they need and also improve border security.” The trip ended up changing some of the ag leaders' opinions, too. One of those leaders is Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan who, before this visit, strongly believed the border could be secured. “It's such an overwhelming thing that I'm not sure we can totally secure the border, but a viable guest worker program would help with the whole situation,” McMillan said.
In the last few years, Alabama was just one of a handful of states that passed laws working to “effectively drive immigrants living in the country [without documentation] out of the state.” The law didn't last too long before the federal government took out some of the harsher language, however it did not help the farmers who were forced to reduce the number of acres they planted “because they weren't sure they could find the workers necessary to harvest crops.”
The bill passed by the Senate last summer included updated border security measures, but the House did not follow the Senate's lead and the bill stalled. Now, Republicans in the House are apparently refusing “to move forward on immigration reform without first securing the border.”
The Rio Grande Valley may not be able to wait much longer for change. It recently passed the Tucson, AZ Border Patrol sector for the most arrests along the Southwest border. Since October 2013, the sector has noted more than 130,000 arrests, this is an increase of approximately 67% from the year before.
What are your thoughts on this recent visit to the border? Should more states have agricultural representatives experience what it's really like?