Produce groups, others support immigration reform

04/17/2013 03:26:00 PM
Coral Beach

For additional information on the proposed legislation, please see "Immigration bill would mandate E-Verify"

click image to zoomAg Workforce Coalition press conferenceCourtesy United FreshTom Stenzel, (at podium) president on the United Fresh Produce Association, voices support for immigration reform at a press conference organized by the Ag Workforce Coalition. Leaders of other groups that are part of the coalition are (from left) Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, and Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.(CORRECTED) Proposed immigration reform that would phase out H-2A visas and mandate a beefed up version of the E-Verify program should secure a stable and affordable work force for agricultural industries, according to members of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition.

“The work force has been one of our largest challenges,” said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, one of 11 groups that founded the coalition.

“We know many of our workers today are undocumented … but they are doing work that many Americans are not willing to do.”

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, another of the coalition’s founding entities, said the legislation introduced April 17 by Sen. Charles Schumer and co-sponsored by seven other senators would help resolve the labor issue. He also said the diverse group that formed the coalition shows the desperate need for reform.

“We brought ag producers and labor together in a once in a generation opportunity with the purpose of getting a legal and stable workforce,” Stuart said.

A late comer to the coalition was the United Farm Workers, led by president Arturo Rodriguez. The group joined the coalition’s effort last week. The coalition represents 69 agriculture-related entities, most of which are in the fresh produce industry.

“This is a historic moment,” Rodriguez said April 17 during the coalition’s press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“With this (legislation) farmworkers would no longer have to fear deportation … and the compromises on wage rates that were reached should create stability for farmers and workers alike.”

The 844-page bill is called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. It includes sweeping reforms and security measures, but the Ag Workforce Coalition focused its efforts on about 200 pages that specifically address immigrant agricultural workers.

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