Farmers for immigration reform

We’ve all seen the “I Heart (fill in the blank here)” bumper stickers, promos and campaigns that are a dime a dozen. As a farmer, I’m particularly fond of “I Heart Food.” But, unfortunately, because of a labor shortage in our farm fields, there’s a growing crisis about the future of our food supply. That’s why farmers “Heart” immigration reform.

In that spirit, throughout the month of February, farmers across the country, in conjunction with the Partnership for the New American Economy, will be using a slightly different spin to show consumers and lawmakers just how important immigration reform is to our food system. The truth is, we either import our labor or we import our food.

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America’s farmers and ranchers need a balanced immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision. We are encouraged by the House Republican Conference’s commitment to moving forward on immigration reform this year with the release of their immigration ‘standards.’ The American Farm Bureau Federation supports the House using these principles as guideposts and, specifically, we appreciate the recognition that agriculture’s need for a legal and stable workforce must be addressed. 

But much work remains and farmers will continue to work toward passage of responsible immigration reform legislation that includes an earned adjustment for experienced, undocumented agricultural workers and a new, flexible guest worker program.  

Helping members of Congress and the public understand that farmers and ranchers depend on the workers who show up every day to tend our crops and raise livestock has been challenging at times. However, we press on because we know responsible immigration reform is imperative for the continued success of American agriculture. 

For all of us worried about securing our borders, one of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. With less time and resources wasted locking up lettuce harvesters, the focus can shift to where it properly belongs – keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country.

Although the specific labor needs of farmers across our nation vary, we will all benefit from agricultural labor reform. We need a solution that addresses agriculture’s unique labor needs with a market-based, flexible agricultural worker program, which reflects real-life workforce challenges for all crop and livestock farmers.

Reforms to our broken immigration system will assure that farmers and ranchers have a legal, stable supply of workers, both in the short- and long-term for all types of agriculture. It is our preference to grow our nation’s food here, and having the labor required to do that is in the best interest of all Americans.

As you put dinner on the table tonight, remember a large part of it is made possible by American farmers, ranchers and immigrant labor. Immigration reform should be important to everyone who loves their food.

Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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