Sens. Feinstein and Craig re-introduce Ag JOBS
Capital Press California Editor 1/10/07
campaign to solve growing labor shortages on many
farms in the West renews today when U.S. Sens.
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Larry Craig,
R-Idaho, re-introduce their AgJOBS legislation.
The Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits, and
Security Act would restructure and reform the
current H-2A temporary agricultural worker
program. It would also allow undocumented workers
to remain in the U.S. if they meet a set of
Scott Gerber, a spokesman for Sen. Feinstein said
re-introducing the bill signals the start of the
debate in the Senate where passage seems certain.
"This passed the Senate last year and we think the
votes are there to pass it again. We think that it
is even more critical now than ever before,"
Gerber said. "What this would do is establish a
pilot program for five years where those who have
been working in this country and want to continue
working in this country would have legal status."
For years, major farm groups have advocated reform
of the H-2A program. Jack King, manager of
national affairs for the California Farm Bureau
Federation, said the time to right to finally
"We are pleased that Sens. Feinstein and Craig are
willing to act as soon as they are. We feel that
it is important to get on with this. It will give
some certainty to labor supplies," King said. "We
just can't go on the way we are. We have to have
some legal method to bring workers to jobs that
obviously other people have shown they are not
willing to take."
King said labor shortages are becoming more
pronounced and severe in California. Currently in
the Imperial Valley and in Yuma, Arizona, farmers
are paying up to $25 an hour for workers and they
still can't find adequate supplies, he said.
"So it is clear that we need a system to bring
foreign workers in to harvest our crops," King
said. "What's important is that we get on with it
as soon as possible and that we don't go through
another year of short labor supplies."
Farm groups came up short on Capitol Hill in
passing AgJOBS last year as House Republicans
failed to act on comprehensive immigration reform.
With the Democratic takeover of the House in
November and a new speaker, Nancy Pelosi, from
California, King hopes for a more favorable
"We think that the current leadership is more
disposed to this problem. That was the problem
this past year. Some members did not want to deal
with it. Their constituents were demanding tighter
borders and not legalization," King said. "We
think the current leadership is more open on that.
We're optimistic this is the time to get the job
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape
and Tree Fruit League, shares that optimism.
"We have in mind to reinvigorate the immigration
reform issue and specifically, by re-introducing
AgJOBS, we hope to bring the whole concept of
comprehensive immigration reform to the
forefront," Bedwell said. "But if there is a
reluctance to proceed with comprehensive, I think
most observers would see that agriculture has
proven its case specifically and if we were to
move ahead with a pilot program like AgJOBS, that
would tend to have a lot of bipartisan support."
Passage of AgJOBS could not come too soon for the
state's labor-intensive tree fruit, grape and
vegetable sectors. Tim Chelling, a spokesman for
Western Growers, said his organization is hopeful
2007 will be the year that immigration reform will
finally be achieved.
"We are extremely hopeful that this may be is the
year that the industry gets the stable workforce
that its been striving to achieve for years,"
Chelling said. "There is a golden window of
opportunity here. It is high time - the workers
deserve it, the farmers deserve it and the nation