Western Growers hailed the leadership of a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives who have announced the introduction of the "Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007," dubbed the STRIVE Act.

Unlike the enforcement-only approach pressed by the House last year, the STRIVE Act addresses the nation's critically dysfunctional immigration system in a comprehensive manner.

The bill was authored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors.

The key components of the bill include increased border security, an electronic employee verification system, a year-round temporary worker program, earned adjustment for the 12 million undocumented people currently in the United States, as well as the "AgJOBS" reforms that address agricultural workers.

Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and chief executive officer, said, "We are heartened to see that the House appears serious about passing comprehensive immigration reform this year. We believe that the House approach contains a viable guest worker program, deals with the country's 12 million undocumented immigrants in a humane and practical manner, and is the best solution for law enforcement, our industry, and our nation."

"We applaud Representatives Gutierrez and Flake for their leadership in advancing comprehensive immigration reform. Now it's time for the Senate to step back up to the plate."

No schedule has been determined for when the STRIVE Act will be debated in the House Judiciary Committee; however, Speaker Pelosi has expressed her desire that a debate on immigration reform should commence this spring.

"We are very pleased that the authors included AgJOBS in the STRIVE Act legislation. Clearly the authors recognize the unique needs of agriculture," said Jason Resnick, Western Growers' assistant general counsel.

"The fresh produce industry, along with the rest of labor intensive agriculture, continues to suffer from labor shortages, and we are now at the tipping point. Congress needs to fix the broken immigration system now before it's too late," he said.

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship ninety percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and seventy five percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation's fresh produce.