FARMERS PLEA FOR PASSAGE OF FAIR GUEST WORKER BILL
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Alabama farmers, along with producers from across the nation, are keeping watch on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week as it considers an immigration reform bill that could cost farmers millions of dollars if it becomes law.
"The American Farm Bureau and the Alabama Farmers Federation are very interested in making sure our borders are secure," Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby said during the opening session of the Federation's annual Washington legislative trip Wednesday morning. "It's very important to all of us that our country stays strong and protected from terrorists. Agriculture already is projected to loose as much as $15 billion in farm income this year because of increased input costs. We need to keep our country strong with safe borders, and we also need to keep our country strong by allowing American farmers to continue to raise the food for all our people."
More than 200 Alabama farmers are participating in the trip this week. In addition to meetings with their congressmen, farmers also are meeting with agricultural leaders to discuss research funding and international trade. Discussions also included the upcoming Farm Bill where farmers asked congressmen not to cut funding for agricultural programs.
American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman spoke during the opening session Wednesday morning, as did U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Stallman said the Judiciary Committee, of which Sessions is a member, is considering a immigration bill this week that already has been adopted by the House of Representatives.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to work on legislation to get passed out and presented to the Senate that will frankly tell us in agriculture if we're going to have an extra $9-14 billion put on us or are we going to have a program that allows us to have a good stable workforce," Stallman said. "Actually, Sen. Session has a big role to play in that as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The reality is that there is legislation that has passed the House of Representatives that basically says we want to secure the borders, build a fence and make employers enforce our immigration laws. None of us are against border security. The question is, how are we going to do that?"
Stallman said many immigration workers are hired to do work that Americans simply won't do. He said the new program should allow the 11-12 million workers that are already in this country to continue working -- if they are abiding by all the laws
Stallman said what happens in the Senate Judiciary Committee, could set the tone for the future of American agriculture. If a bill similar to the House bill becomes law, it will run about 30 percent of the fruit and vegetable production out of the United States, he said, adding that the impact also will be significant for livestock and poultry.
Sessions defended his position of building a fence along America's borders and tightening immigration laws.
"We're not going to stop workers from coming into this country," Sessions said. "Matter of fact, we're probably not going to achieve the basic requirements of a legitimate worker bill which is to have one that can be enforced and will follow the law.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we can create a legal system in this country to allow a large number of people to come work and work on the farms, that we can confront the problem of workplace legality, tighten up the border and make the borders work."
Sessions said if immigrants are allowed to enter the United States too rapidly, it could diminish the availability for American workers to find jobs and provide for their families.
"We need foreign workers. We have foreign workers now, and we're going to continue to have them, but, it needs to be in a lawful way." Sessions said. "This nation has a right to decide the number (of people who are allowed to come here) and to protect its national security."
Newby praised Sessions for his support of Alabama agriculture. He said farm groups look forward to working with the senator to pass an immigration bill that protects American citizens while providing an option for farmers to employ legal migrant workers.