California farms need immigration reform.
This was the message President Barack Obama and the White House pushed on Monday as they continued to look for support on the Senate approved immigration reform that would allow for a majority of California's undocumented workers to gain a pathway to citizenship.
According to the White House, 73 percent of California's agricultural workers are non citizens — the highest rate in the nation.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that passing immigration reform is key to ensuring the vitality of California's robust agricultural economy.
"You start looking at those numbers state-by-state (and) you recognize the economic impact on agriculture, and it then becomes common sense that it's time to fix this broken system," Vilsack said.
If immigration reform doesn’t pass, Vilsack warned that it could prove devastating to California's farms.
According to a report by the American Farm Bureau Federation, long-run production losses in California due to the lack of adequate labor are projected at $1.7 billion to $3.4 billion for the $33.9 billion industry.
"People who work on California farms make a big contribution to our state and its economy," California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger said. "It's time we provide immigrant farm employees with a system that recognizes their contributions and permits them to work legally on our farms and ranches."
Currently, the House has refused the Senate version of the bill, with Speaker John Boehner stating that the bill is rushed and will not do what it is intended to.
“The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy,” said Boehner. But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem."
The Senate version of the bill would allow for a “bluecard” program. Under the bluecard program, experienced agricultural workers could obtain legal immigration status by satisfying criteria such as passing a background check, paying a fine and proving that applicable taxes have been paid.
Bluecard workers would be required to continue to work in agriculture before having the opportunity to qualify for a green card.
If enacted, the Senate bill would allow an estimated 1.5 million agricultural workers and their families to earn legal status.
Tom Nassif, CEO and president of Western Growers Association, said fixing the current immigration system should be a high priority for the country's leadership.
“Our immigration system is broken,” said Nassif. “Without leadership and courage from our elected representatives and workable new legislation to correct these problems, it cannot be fixed.”