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.]


Friday, August 9, 2013


With the House of Representatives on a five-week recess, this is a crucial time for everyone supporting comprehensive immigration reform to contact the local office for your House Member.

The only ones to whom House Members pay attention are constituents who live in their District and who have the potential to vote them out of office.  That's why your voice and viewpoint at this time are so crucial for the sake of our immigrant brothers and sisters.

 A simple and brief email to your House Member is the best.  Or, a phone call to the District office in which you urge the Member to support a comprehensive immigration reform.  Best of all:  try to get a meeting with your Member and bring a small group of immigration reform supporters.

The best approach with House Members is to be positive about our being a nation of immigrants, and how immigrants have strengthened our nation--and continue to do so.  Point out that immigrants keep coming to our country for one reason:  there are jobs here that others will not take.  Many of these jobs are low-skilled and low-wages.  Immigrants are filling those jobs simply because others in the country won't.

Appeal to the Member to be a leader in dealing with some 11 million people living in the shadows of our society, people whose dignity and rights are being denied.  Explain that a comprehensive approach, such as in the Senate, is the best approach to deal with all of the issues that have been neglected over several decades.

Discourage a piecemeal approach to this pressing national issue.  The Senate version is already very onerous for our immigrants, and to stretch out the process even longer helps no one.

Continue to pray for our immigrants and immigration reform.  Try to get Intercessions included in the parish Prayer of the Faithful on Sundays for our immigrants and just reform.

Those opposed to immigration reform are working hard to defeat any meaningful reform.  We must be even more diligent and proactive in our efforts on behalf of these brothers and sisters.

With God's grace, we can make a significant difference on behalf of the least brothers and sisters!