There is no more perplexing issue in California and Arizona agriculture today that immigration reform. Forget water, pesticides and government regulations. Labor is No. 1 on the list of crises. However, it is a problem politicians address largely with rhetoric. Solutions seem distant at best.

Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League in Fresno, is at a loss to understand what it will take to get meaningful federal immigration reform before agriculture loses its labor force. He told USDA Secretary Mike Johanns at the Farm Bill Forum that the United Farmworkers and agriculture struck a deal on immigration reform legislation only to be frustrated in Congress.

Kevin Rogers, Arizona Farm Bureau president and Maricopa County farmer, says said the failure of Mexico-U.S. border and immigration policies have reached the “boiling point. We need comprehensive reform that includes border security, workplace enforcement and access to legal pools of foreign workers.”

As Rogers says, ag immigration reform is only part of a much bigger Mexico-U.S border problem.

The governors of New Mexico and Arizona have declared states of emergency to stem not just the flow of illegal immigrants, but to stop the border violence associated with drug and illegal alien smuggling.

Across the border from Laredo, Texas more than 111 people have been killed in bloody drug cartel/police corruption war in Nuevo Laredo already this year. The American consultant in the city closed for a short period recently, its personnel afraid for their safety.

The Nuevo Laredo drug war is putting too much heat on the drug cartels there, and they are switching to the California-Mexico border to cross huge quantities of drugs into the U.S.

U.S. Customs reports that seizures of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines at five border crossings in California jumped nearly 50 percent to 140,384 pounds in the nine months to June over the same period a year earlier.

Hundreds are dying in the Arizona desert trying to reach America for better jobs and money to feed their families. The Border Patrol rounds up 1.5 million illegal immigrants each year and sends them back into Mexico. Oftentimes the deported illegals beat the Border Patrol back across the border.

The 2,000 miles of U.S.-Mexico border is a war zone recognized as a battlefield by only a few political leaders in U.S. border states. The governors of Arizona and New Mexico have been branded as political opportunists for their actions, a charge that is not only ludicrous but serves to demonstrate the failure of many to recognize the crisis at hand.

The tragic absurdity of it all became reality recently when visiting with a farmer about immigration reform after a man who had worked for him for 14 years arrived at the farm for another season of work. His first day back in California was spent with fellow workers digging out thorns and doctoring scratches and scrapes the man suffered crossing the border and returning to the farm where he had worked for more than a decade.

The U.S/Mexico border has become an international symbol of suffering. This is not just a border states problem for California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It is not just a labor issue for agriculture or the service industry in the U.S. It is a national crisis that demands national attention now.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com