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News & Media: Staff Columns

Immigration proposals moving, but can any become law?

Monday, June 3, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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By John Holevoet, director of government affairs

In May, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, briefed Republican senators on the immigration plan he has been working on. All details are still not known, but the proposal is meant to boost border security while also setting up a new merit-based system for legal immigration.

Under the plan, immigration levels would stay the same, but the composition of who would be allowed in would change. Skills would be emphasized over family connections.

While farmers would consider their employees to be skilled workers, most would not have the type of skills that would be preferred under the Kushner plan. Still, there are elements of the plan that address the shortage of workers to do physically demanding jobs like those in agriculture. The plan calls for a near doubling of the number of H-2B visas, which are for temporary or seasonal workers, but only those working outside of agriculture. These visas are typically used by landscaping or construction businesses.

The plan does not appear to provide any relief for ag labor problems. Kristi Boswell, who was formerly the point person on immigration at American Farm Bureau and more recently an adviser to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, has been working at the White House. Edge has worked with Boswell in the past and appreciates her passion for the issue. Her presence at the White House means ag has a strong advocate in the mix, but it is unclear if that will yield results.

It is also unclear what level of support the Kushner plan might have in the White House. His close relationship with the president suggests a favorable reaction, but President Trump and several other administration officials have publicly indicated a desire to reduce the overall amount of legal immigration, not just change the makeup of the pool of people being admitted legally.

In Congress, the plan’s prospects are no better. It is very hard to imagine the plan being embraced by a Democrat-controlled House.

Speaking of the House, that could be where we see the emergence of one or more alternatives to the Kushner plan. The new chairperson of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship is Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren from California. She has reintroduced the “Blue Card” bill that would give some undocumented people a long-term path to citizenship if they meet certain requirements. This is probably a non-starter with the president.

Her staff has also been working very closely with ag stakeholders, including Edge and the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, to try to come up with a solution to the year-round labor needs of some farmers. Such a proposal could enjoy bipartisan support and its limited scope might make it palatable to President Trump. Indeed, it could give him an important piece of pro-farmer legislation to sign as his reelection campaign heats up.

Lofgren’s proposal is not the only one out there. There will be others that emerge from Congress and still others might be pushed forward by external interest groups. That includes a plan that would allow for the expansion of legal immigration to curtail illegal immigration and the negative byproducts of the current system’s failings, such as human trafficking and other exploitative practices.

Edge is happy to engage with any lawmaker or policy organization that wants to move the ball forward on immigration reform. We want our farmers to be able to keep their current workers and we want them to have a clear method of legally recruiting new workers from abroad if necessary.

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