By Benjamin Goad - 09/04/13 08:02 PM EDT
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to halt enforcement actions against illegal farm workers and their employers, saying continued prosecutions could cripple the agriculture sector.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Feinstein (D-Calif.) noted that ICE had already stopped deporting certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
“I respectfully suggest that you adopt a similar policy of exercising prosecutorial discretion to defer enforcement against agricultural employers and workers, and concentrate instead on removing those who would and have harmed our society, rather than those who contribute to our vital agricultural economy and heritage, and the safe and high-quality food supply that benefits all Americans,” Feinstein wrote.
She said the enforcement is hurting the economy in California — home to roughly 81,000 farms —and beyond at a time when the industry faces an acute worker shortage.
“Farmers from all across the United States have expressed the severe harm they have been suffering from the lack of willing and available domestic agricultural employees,” she wrote.
Feinstein, along with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), crafted the agricultural worker component of the sweeping immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June.
The House has yet to act on the legislation.