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3/18/2014 4:55:00 PM Letters to the editor: Farmers looking to Congress to address immigration reform
As president of the La Salle County Farm Bureau, I would like to applaud Congressman Adam Kinzinger for his common sense and courage in talking about the need for immigration reform.
One of Farm Bureau’s priorities is passing farm labor reform this year. Immigrants represent three out of four hired farm workers, primarily in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector. Without these workers, the U.S. economy would lose as much as $9 billion annually in agricultural production and we would import an even bigger share of our nation’s food supply.
For whatever reason, there simply aren’t enough American workers willing to take some of the most physically demanding jobs in agriculture. Farmers who grow fruit and vegetables, raise seed corn, or milk cows have tried to recruit local workers with wages significantly higher than the minimum wage, but they are unable to find the workers they need.
Last year the Department of Labor reported roughly 70 percent of the domestic workers referred to farmers participating in the cumbersome H-2a program did not accept the offer of a farm job, and of those who did, only five percent — one in 20 domestic workers — stayed on the job through the entire contract. With that record, farmers are forced to fill their labor needs by hiring undocumented immigrants, many of whom are hardworking and trusted employees who end up raising their families in our communities.
Like anyone, farmers want a stable and legal workforce. They want rules they can work with and a system that satisfies their employment needs now and in the future. Talk to specialty growers and dairymen in Illinois and they will tell you there will be economic consequences for all consumers if Congress is unable to come to grips with the problem and address it through immigration reform.
A recent study commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation reveals that “food prices would increase an additional five to six percent over the next five years if enforcement-only (immigration) polices were put into place, because of a lack of workers to harvest crops. It would cost the agriculture sector as much as $60 billion over the same period.”
That’s why Farm Bureau appreciates the efforts of leaders like Rep. Kinzinger who understands that while immigration reform can be a complex and volatile issue, it’s an issue that’s not going away and must addressed, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Monty Whipple, Utica
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