What is in this article?:
- Immigration reform brings warnings from California agriculture
- Calls for flexibility
- The California agriculture industry wants to make sure immigration reform mistakes of the past are not repeated.
John Welty, right, president of Fresno State University, and Fred Franzia, CEO of Bronco Wine Co.
With the U.S. Congress seemingly eager to grapple with immigration reform, those who work on farms and the ranchers and growers who hire them want to make sure mistakes of the past are not repeated and that a framework for meeting continued needs of employers is addressed.
The buzzword that kept cropping up at a forum on the subject at California State University, Fresno, was “future flow,” a reference to the need for a lawful system that will meet the need for 1.5 million farmworkers nationwide.
What speakers said they do not want is the type of reform that came with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Several said it didn’t provide a pathway to a legalized work force, instead opening the door to use of falsified I-9 documents and ultimately resulting in many agricultural workers leaving the industry.
The event was co-sponsored by Bravo Ag Group and brought together about 90 growers, farm labor contractors, representatives of California Congressional and Senate delegations and others interested in how reform is being shaped.
The event opened with remarks from Fred Franzia, CEO of Ceres-based Bronco Wine Co., a major employer of farmworkers.
“The farmworker is a viable and important part of our being in the San Joaquin Valley,” Franzia said, calling for a system that will keep them on the job, protect their rights and not put them in the position of “being on the dodge and acting like they’re some criminal element.”
Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks, described herself as “not a farm girl” but “here to listen to you.” She said “high level and intense conversations are going on in Washington and at the national level on what is the best answer for agriculture in immigration reform.”
Several speakers said the H-2A visa program that allows foreign nationals to come here temporarily to work in agriculture is costly, laden with bureaucratic roadblocks and often not responsive to timely needs of growers of perishable crops.
Between 60,000 and 90,000 workers are brought to the U.S. under H-2A as laborers on farms and ranches. That’s just a small percentage of the 1.5 million workers that are needed for those jobs.
The H-2A program is used heavily by the North Carolina Growers Association, but the association’s deputy director, Lee Wicker, conceded administering it requires a staff of 10 in addition to three field representatives.
One of the requirements of H-2A is provision of housing. California’s housing costs make that prohibitive, said, Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel for Western Growers Association. Moreover, he said, there is a “not in my backyard” attitude that inhibits providing housing.