Agriculture has the long-awaited opportunity to help push immigration reform legislation across the finish line.
It will take a monumental effort, demanding the attention and involvement of the entire ag community.
It will require a full-court press of phone calls, visits, letters and emails to your representatives in Congress.
Mike Stuart, FFVA president, calls it our once-in-a-generation chance.
If this legislation fails, it will be another decade or more before anyone will have the political will to make another attempt.
The Senate made immigration reform its priority in June and passed a comprehensive reform bill, S. 744, with a bipartisan 68-32 votes.
The Border Security, Economic Security and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 includes provisions for agriculture that legalize current experienced workers who are already here, as well as a visa program to ensure an adequate farm workforce in the future.
The bill has strong support of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, of which FFVA is a founding member, as well as the Uninted Farm Workers.
The new, easier-to-use visa program for guest workers consists of two components.
One is an at will W-3 visa that would allow employees to move among employers as opportunities arise. The other is a contract-based W-2 visa component.
The Senate vote on the legislation put together by the bipartisan Gang of Eight—including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio—could affect what happens in the House.
“The imperative of a big bipartisan vote coming out of the Senate should create some momentum as the House takes up the bill,” says Kam Quarles, legislative director for McDermott, Will and Emory in his update to FFVA’s board of directors at its summer meeting.
It is the House where FFVA will focus its attention and will be calling for all hands on deck. Legislation is expected to surface soon by the House’s own Gang of Eight, which includes Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
When that happens, FFVA will call on its members to press the entire Florida delegation hard for support of the comprehensive House bill.
“This will involve a monumental effort for Florida to be talking to our legislators, especially the Republicans,” Stuart says. “It will require an effort from all of us, and we’re going to mobilize our membership, as will all Florida agricultural organizations. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Everyone who has a stake in this needs to work with our legislators and lean on them as hard as we can to get this thing done.”