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Congress Revives Immigration Reform Debate

February 6, 2013

With immigration reform moving high up on the list of issues that both political parties will address in the new Congress, NMPF President and CEO Jerry Kozak says he is “more optimistic than I have been in several years that the dairy industry’s call for legislation providing a stable, legal, year-around workforce will be included in a comprehensive immigration package this year.”

NMPF has been working closely for the past year and a half with other key farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, on efforts to develop a unified voice for agriculture on the immigration reform issue.” Now that the debate over immigration reform has moved to the fore, it is more important than ever for agriculture to be working together,” Kozak said.

To further that collaboration, NMPF helped to create the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), a coalition that is representing agriculture’s needs as immigration reform legislation is developed. NMPF has worked to ensure that AWC endorses policy proposals consistent with the needs of NMPF’s dairy farmer members. Specifically, the proposal moves agriculture away from a focus on the failed H2A program – which has never met the needs of dairy farmers – in favor of a new program that encompasses the workforce challenges faced by year-around industries like dairy farming. Additionally, the AWC proposal, if adopted, will ensure that farmers do not lose their current workforce due to changes to the U.S. immigration system.

According to Kozak, NMPF was pleased with the recent Senate proposal released by the “Gang of 8,” a bipartisan group of Senators who have drafted a comprehensive solution to immigration and border security challenges. NMPF and AWC have worked closely with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to develop legislation that considers the needs of dairy farmers and agriculture in general. These efforts will become the starting point for the Senate’s efforts to pass an immigration measure.

NMPF also has been meeting with members of the House of Representatives and their staffs to discuss agriculture’s priorities. At the first House hearing this week on immigration reform, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA), noted the specific needs of agriculture in the immigration reform effort, saying that U.S. laws “erect unnecessary hurdles for farmers who put food on America’s tables. Our agriculture guestworker program is simply unworkable and needs to be reformed.”

“It is clear from these efforts that members of both parties and both chambers understand the unique needs of agriculture with regards to immigration reform,” Kozak said. “We are very pleased with the tenor of these discussions and we remain confident that when legislation regarding immigration reform is considered in the House, the needs of dairy will be addressed.”