Local community seeks passage of 'AgJOBS' bill
Last updated 5/3/2007 at Noon
The San Diego County Farm Bureau and many local farmers are hoping for passage of a Congressional bill which would allow farmworkers from other countries to work in the United States legally.
“We support legislation that’s been given the title ‘AgJOBS,’” said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson. “That’s a proposal that would provide a legal work force for the farmers,” Larson said. “They want a reliable and legal work force they can count on day in and day out.”
The AgJOBS bill (the capitalization is derived from its full name as the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act) is currently working its way through the United States Senate. The AgJOBS legislation would likely include a Federally-issued card, possibly with a photograph, that the employment applicant would provide to the farmer. The farmer would verify, likely through an on-line computer process, that the card is a legal document and connected with the applicant.
“When the farmers hire someone, they know they’re hiring someone who’s in the country legally,” Larson said.
Currently farmers must trust a potential farmworker’s document at face value. If farmers doubt the validity of the document, they could be subject to discrimination regulations. “We need some other system where we can go on and verify that,” Larson said. “We don’t think that these farmers should have to play the role of immigration service.”
The AgJOBS bill would allow for work-related temporary immigration on an as-needed basis. “The crops that are planted and harvested in our country will be done by foreign-born workers,” Larson said. “If people aren’t willing to have those workers here then they’ll be planting and harvesting those crops in a foreign country.”
Although immigration has been cited as a national security issue, foreign food production would also create a national security vulnerability. “We know the fix we’re in now depending on foreign oil producers,” Larson said.
“I think we always want a strong domestic supply of food, and that’s a huge national security issue,” Larson said. “Generally that food depends on a foreign-born workforce.”
Imported agricultural products also increase the bioterrorism threat to the United States. “Do we want all of our agricultural products coming from foreign producers?” Larson said.
The AgJOBS bill would allow for the foreign-born workers to fill jobs in the United States, thus satisfying the needs of American farmers. “People in this country are not raising their children to be farmworkers, and people who are already here are not applying for farmworker jobs,” Larson said.
The legal status of immigrant farmworkers also means that those workers can return to their countries of origin when not involved in crop production. “When the seasonal work’s over they can go home and move freely back and forth across the border,” Larson said.
The current system, Larson notes, restricts border crossings of workers and inhibits them from returning home when their seasonal work is complete. In many cases the workers and their families are on public assistance when they are in this country without seasonal work. “We could resolve many of these social issues,” Larson said.
The visas would likely be for a multiple-year term, and one possibility would require the workers to return home at least once each year. The long-term visa period provides stability to the farmers. “They can become very trusted, loyal, and experienced workers, and we really don’t want to throw that away,” Larson said.
The support of the local farm community doesn’t necessarily equate to agricultural support elsewhere. “There’s not necessarily a universal opinion across the entire nation,” Larson said. “Local farmers are supporting the AgJOBS bill.”