The Western Growers Association (WGA) is looking to the full Congress to pass the Emergency Agricultural Relief Act (EARA), which was passed May 15 on a bipartisan basis as an amendment to the supplemental war-spending bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered up the amendment, which was approved on a 17-12 vote by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, to help ensure a legal and stable, agricultural workforce.

“We cannot thank Senator Feinstein enough for her statesmanship and leadership in recognizing that without a stable, economical workforce, there will be no agriculture in this country,” said Tom Nassif, WGA’s president and chief executive officer.

“We are in danger of losing our domestic food source, and unless we want to become dependent on foreign countries for our food, as we are for our energy, our government needs to allow agriculture to legally hire those individuals who are willing to pick, harvest, and pack the food all of us enjoy,” Nassif said.

Similar to AgJOBS, the EARA, sponsored by Sens. Feinstein and Larry Craig (R-Idaho), would create a temporary program that allows falsely documented workers to continue to work on farms.

However, unlike AgJOBS, workers who have worked and continue to work in agriculture would not have an automatic path to legalization and the program would sunset after five years. This addresses the concerns of those who saw a path to citizenship as amnesty.

“Our current system is broken,” Nassif said. “The current agricultural guestworker program is not cost effective, filled with bureaucracy, and is essentially unworkable. Agriculture has not shied away from the fact that many of the employees who work tirelessly in the fields and packing sheds around the country are falsely documented.”

“We have been very clear that a solution is needed now,” Nassif said. “The Emergency Agricultural Relief Act is the necessary step in that direction and must be passed.”

Western Growers is an agricultural trade association whose members grow, pack, and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation’s fresh produce.