Clock ticking for immigration reform

With a grape crop around the state that has been almost a yawner so far in terms of pest and disease pressure, it’s politics – specifically immigration reform – garnering the most concern. The highly labor dependent California grape industry is nervously awaiting something – anything – from Capitol Hill.

“I just returned a couple of weeks ago from my third trip this year to D.C. on this issue where our ongoing efforts have now begun to yield results with the introduction of S1348 in the Senate,” says Barry Bedwell, President, California Grape and Tree Fruit League (CGTFL).

The bill represents a bi-partisan attempt at comprehensive immigration reform and contains within it all of the major components of AgJOBS which has been introduced previously both in the Senate and House (S 340 and HR 371). CGTFL and other groups have been actively pushing AgJOBS as at least a temporary solution to the ongoing labor shortage.

“The bottom line is that agriculture is running out of time, and we need reform now,” Bedwell says. “There is a continuing trend of a decreasing labor force available for agriculture. What we witnessed last year in regard to the pear crop losing a material portion of its production due to the lack of workers in Northern California is a precursor of things to come if we cannot fix the broken system we are attempting to function under at this time.”

Last year’s pear harvest, which is valued historically at approximately $60 million, lost an estimated 20 to 30 percent simply due to a shortage of harvest labor, according to Bedwell. For the moment, the future of migrant labor in California is mostly in the hands of the politicians.

“The most important thing is that the Senate passes some type of comprehensive reform that can be reconciled later with whatever the House produces in a conference committee,” Bedwell says. “If the Senate fails to move forward on a bill then it will most likely be two to three years before meaningful reform can be accomplished.”

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