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Farm groups join others, push immigration reform

July 15, 2014 | 0 comments


Farm groups are stepping up their pressure on Congressional members to achieve some kind of comprehensive immigration reform this session.

Laurie Fischer, executive director of the Dairy Business Association, was part of a press conference last week to call attention to the problems caused for dairy farmers and other businesses as they look for help to keep their businesses running.

She joined a group that visited Washington, D.C. in June, which included business people from 16 states. They tried to impress various representatives with the importance of immigration reform for the economy and for their individual businesses.

"We sat with Speaker (John) Boehner in his office and this was the day after (House Majority Leader Eric) Cantor had lost," Fischer said. "He was pretty tied up in what had happened."

Many pundits proclaimed immigration reform dead in the wake of Cantor's loss to a Tea Party challenger. The opponent had challenged Cantor's support of several immigration reforms and beat him by a double-digit margin.

Fischer said Boehner told the group, which included several Wisconsin dairy farmers, that he does have a plan to carry immigration reform forward.

"He's interested in getting something done and we believe for the most part our Wisconsin Congressional delegation is in favor of reforms," she said. "It's much more difficult in other states."

The DBA is part of a coalition of business, manufacturing and agriculture leaders that planned a nationwide push for immigration reform.

They kicked off that effort last week with what they called a National Day of Action in Washington and 60 Congressional districts in 20 states to put pressure on lawmakers to work harder for immigration reform.

The coalition includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Partnership for a New American Economy, Business Roundtable, the American Farm Bureau Federation, AmericanHort, the National Association of Manufacturers and Western Growers.

Fischer joined representatives of PNAE, Nestle USA and Little Chute Pizza at a press conference in De Pere on June 9 to amplify the issue in Wisconsin and its importance to all kinds of state businesses.

"It's important to vendors and businesses like Nestles to have a reliable labor force," she said.

For her organization's dairy farm members, it's a problem, Fischer added. "Our individual members are paying much higher than minimum wage, and they don't get applicants. If they can't get the labor force they need, it is going to affect their future business decisions."

In addition to preventing farmers from finding new workers, government actions are taking away some of the workers they have. According to Fischer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is flying over dairy farms in New York with helicopters waiting for immigrant workers to walk out so they can catch them.

"Our immigration system is broken, and it needs to be fixed," she said.

"In the next 20 years, 79 million baby boomers will retire and leave the work force, and there are less than 50 million Gen-Xers and millennials to take their place," she added. "Who's going to fill those jobs?"

Top concern

The top concern she hears from her dairy farmer members in Wisconsin is that of having a stable workforce, Fischer said.

They need to know they will have a team to keep their current operations going, let alone find ways to expand.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, also called on Congress last week to move forward on immigration reform so farmers will have the workforce they need to continue to do business.

"Responsible immigration reform that addresses border security and provides farmers access to a legal and stable workforce remains a priority for Farm Bureau," he said.

"True reform can only be accomplished through legislation. We will continue to press for solutions on this important issue on behalf of America's food producers."

Stallman commended Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart for his leadership in urging reform for the nation's immigration system.

"We still need House leadership to move forward on immigration reform legislation championed by Diaz-Balart," Stallman added. "Not doing so will only deepen the labor crisis faced by America's farmers and ranchers."

While farm groups might debate certain specific items in legislation, they generally agree that comprehensive reform is needed.

Fischer said the Senate's version of an immigration reform bill had mandatory minimum wage requirements

State opinion

According to a new survey, which was unveiled at the De Pere press conference, 87 percent of Wisconsin voters say the current immigration system is in need of fixing — with four out of five voters saying it's important for Congress to act on immigration reform this year.

Fischer said the survey results show it isn't just a few business interests that feel it is an important topic for the country.

George Klaetsch, a Madison attorney who is working for PNAE, was part of the press conference in De Pere.

He noted that in the survey, 69 percent of Wisconsin voters reject Congress' concern with the current administration's enforcement of existing laws as a legitimate reason not to act on fixing the immigration system.

Klaetsch said the businesses that are part of this new campaign for comprehensive immigration reform range from agriculture to high-tech companies.

There are many high-tech companies with hundreds of job vacancies they cannot fill, he said. "It's not just the low-skill jobs."

The push for immigration reform comes as the Obama Administration has asked for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to handle the humanitarian crisis posed by nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors who have gotten into the United States from Central America.

The president asked for the funding to help state officials provide housing and food for the children — some as young as 6 years old — who traveled into the United States alone, fleeing drug violence and poverty.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, $1.8 billion of that request would be spent on taking care of the kids while they await immigration processing.

Homeland Security would use $1.1 billion to pay for transporting the children, investigations and incarceration of adults, if that is necessary.

Civil rights groups argue the kids should be considered refugees rather than illegal aliens.

The debate in Washington this week has centered more around the president's request than it has on comprehensive immigration reform.

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