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Secretary's Column: Immigration Reform Also an Important Labor Issue

Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in USDA Results
Feb 21, 2017

Each year on Labor Day, we take time to reflect on the productivity of America’s workers and our responsibility as a nation to support their efforts.

This year, as we gather to celebrate, Congress has a timely opportunity to create an even stronger American workforce for generations to come. They can do so by fixing America’s broken immigration system.

The broad impacts that immigration reform would have for our economy are well documented. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and Social Security Office of the Chief Actuary, the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill would boost our economy by 3.3 percent, reduce the deficit by a projected $850 billion and add nearly $300 billion to our Social Security system by the end of the decade.

But immigration reform would also address critical labor issues. Today’s broken system leaves millions of workers in the shadows – a dangerous situation for these workers and their families – and provides no clarity for U.S. employers, the majority of whom want to do the right thing. At a time when we should be providing rules that empower American productivity, today’s broken immigration system only furthers uncertainty.

This is especially true for agriculture. Farmworkers drive an industry that is directly related to one in 12 American jobs. They’re in the fields as crops are planted, cared for and harvested. They’re in packing houses and processing facilities.  They help get food to markets and stores that ends up on kitchen tables across the country.

About half of these workers are unauthorized, and many more are employed under a temporary worker program that is difficult for farmers and farmworkers alike to understand. In the years to come, the resulting instability in our agricultural workforce threatens productivity on farms and ranches, and impacts rural communities where agriculture is a thriving part of their economies.

The commonsense immigration reform measure passed in June by the U.S. Senate, with bipartisan support, would provide a comprehensive set of rules to ensure a stable and adequate workforce for agriculture. It expands and reforms the temporary worker program to allow a three-year visa for agricultural workers, while enacting a pathway to citizenship for temporary workers who are committed to continue working in agriculture. And it provides a fair opportunity to earn U.S. citizenship for those who are in our country without authorization – a process that will require going to the back of the line, settling taxes and paying fines for those who want to earn citizenship.

The result would be a modern system that makes sense. It would bring millions of farmworkers out of the shadows and give them a fair chance to strive for the American dream. It would help farmers and ranchers focus on growing more and expanding their business. It would give agriculture the people power to keep driving economic growth and creating jobs.

This Labor Day, I’m hopeful that Congress can find a way to solve this modern labor challenge facing our nation. We have a long history in America of supporting those who work hard – and Congress has the chance to make even more progress by passing commonsense immigration reform.

For an audio version of this column, click here.
Category/Topic: USDA Results

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Nick James
Aug 30, 2013

well, For one The most important thing you can do is for some of you government officials to stop taking credit for God's Work before its too late, meaning Our Savior coming back and having to the work he wants us to do, to better our nation! Secondly, some of You need to put yourself in our shoes and to see what its like to live like an american, or any american citizen that lives a day in our country that some of you people, actually say is getting better, the Lies can only stop if we actually do something about it, and if some people actually take time out of your busy schedule to better our nation! With God anything and everything is possible but not in the wrong way, and with out him our Country and world is a Very Dark and wicked place! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Ed Frances
Sep 03, 2013

The challenges our modern day Congress is facing, in relation to labor unions and immigration reform, will continue to heat up the debates. I'm confident, though, that in coming years, we'll see our country deal positively with these pressing issues.
Immigration reform and the effects on the labor laws, will need to be addressed swiftly and hopefully within Obama's term. I'm very concerned that more has to be done for US Citizens, their rights to the American Dream and also fairly dealing with immigration laws. It's a tough road ahead, but we'll get to the promised land! :)

Coleman Jackson
Sep 07, 2013

I thing unlawful immigrants is better word instead illegal immigrants. I am agree that the illegal immigration is totally harmful for the health of country and its economy but on other side we cannot decline the labor shortage issue where the majority of us want a reputed job. So the immigration reform is the only solution for such kind of situations