July 1, 2014
To no one’s great surprise, President Obama recently confirmed what has long been suspected here in Washington: the chances of Congress passing immigration reform legislation in 2014 have gone from slim to none. Late last month, the President said Speaker John Boehner informed him the House of Representatives will not move forward with the issue this year.
And yet, some continue to acknowledge this inconvenient truth about the pressing need for Washington’s lawmakers to work on immigration: “The current system, to me, is broken.” This recognition of reality has been expressed by NMPF as an organization for a decade, as well as by many other individuals and groups working on the issue. However, what makes this quote significant is that it comes from the new House Majority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. You’ll recall that McCarthy (who represents the farming-dependent community of Bakersfield, Cal., where he sees the challenge of this issue first-hand) was just elected to replace former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his primary election in June.
So even though the political momentum doesn’t currently exist to pass a bill in the House, many of the leaders in the House, including the new number-two GOP leader, Rep. McCarthy, continue to acknowledge that this issue needs to be tackled. NMPF, meanwhile, will continue to seek consensus between both parties behind the principles which have always guided us in this process: protecting current workers, establishing a system to attract and retain future workers, and holding harmless farmers who may have employed improperly documented workers.
Right now, it’s not clear what administrative actions could be taken by the President, or more importantly, would be helpful to dairy farmers in the short run. NMPF’s focus has always been on the long-term implications of farms not having access to future workers, or losing workers that they have employed for many years. We will continue to press our case with the Administration to ensure that, if the President decides to act on this issue, his actions be in the best interest of dairy farmers and agriculture generally.
The current political stalemate creates the type of uncertainty for small businesses that, simply put, is bad for the economy. Businesses involved in food production, including seasonal produce operations, as well as those with perennial needs for work – such as dairy farms – will still be hard-pressed to find the workers they need, this year or next. As the unemployment rate gradually recedes, the challenge of finding the type of labor needed on dairy farms is going to grow.
The imbalanced supply and demand situation affecting the agricultural workforce in America is not going to correct itself in the absence of congressional action. This is why NMPF is going to continue to work with other national farm organizations through the Agriculture Workforce Coalition. The history of most major public policy controversies is that they take multiple efforts, by a variety of stakeholders working together in common cause, to finally make things happen. It’s not a question of if, but when, it happens.
With the Farm Bill battles in our rear-view mirror, NMPF is devoting even more attention to other major policy issues like immigration reform. Margin insurance to hedge against catastrophically-low milk prices, and/or high feed costs, is going to be a great tool for farmers. But the failure to fix our broken immigration system, and thus ensure that farms have an adequate supply of legalized workers, exposes many to the same type of economic vulnerability posed by an inadequate farm-level economic safety net. Even if the congressional political state of play may have shifted recently on Capitol Hill, the economic reality outside of Washington has not. Our works goes on.