Farmers worry about fate of immigration bills

Jul 8, 2013, 6:39 PM

ATWOOD, Mich. (AP) – For northern Michigan fruit grower Pat McGuire, the most potent symbol of the immigration debate isn’t grainy television footage showing people slipping furtively across the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead, it’s plump red cherries and crisp apples rotting on the ground because there aren’t enough workers to pick them _ a scenario that could become reality over the next couple of months.

Across the state’s orchard belt, cherry trees already sag under the weight of bright-red clusters, yet many trailers and wood-frame cottages that should be bustling with migrant families stand empty. McGuire is waiting to hear whether crews will show up to pick his crop in mid-July.

“We’re running out of time,” he said, pulling aside leafy branches to inspect his ripening fruit on gently sloping hillsides a mile inland from Lake Michigan.

From Christmas tree growers in the Appalachians to Wisconsin dairy farmers and producers of California’s diverse abundance of fruits and vegetables, agricultural leaders are pleading with Congress for an immigration bill that includes more lenient and less complex rules for hiring farm workers.

A measure that recently cleared the Democratic-led Senate contained provisions that the farm lobby said were promising. The Republican-controlled House is expected to take up the issue shortly. But with agriculture’s once-mighty political influence in decline as its workforce has fallen to 2 percent of the population, it’s uncertain how the industry will fare. Farmers’ complaints about a shrinking labor pool are being overshadowed by the ideologically charged issues of border security and giving legal status to people in the country illegally.

McGuire, 42, a self-described conservative who usually votes Republican, was among representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation who made their case on Capitol Hill last week. His Michigan group went to the offices of eight lawmakers and to the Senate floor, buttonholing members or their staffers.

“Each office had their party speech,” McGuire said, recalling one member’s argument about border security. But the border must already be pretty secure, McGuire said, “because we don’t have the labor in this country that we used to have.”

Michigan farmers hire about 45,000 seasonal workers in the typical year, many of them immigrants. Some of the asparagus crop was left in the field this spring because too few pickers were available.

In neighboring Wisconsin, immigrant workers make up more than 40 percent of the hired labor force at increasingly large dairy operations, according to a 2008 University of Wisconsin study. Kevin Krentz, who milks 500 cows near Berlin, said finding enough help locally is a constant struggle.

“It’s not a job that’s 9-to-5,” Krentz said. “It’s a job that’s done when the cows are fed, when the cows are milked, when the crops are harvested.”

The situation poses a test for the House GOP, said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, a trade organization that represents the fresh produce industry in California and Arizona. A Republican who held several positions in the Reagan administration, Nassif said some in the party are so concerned about illegal immigration that they’re trying to sabotage any chance for reform.

But if the House doesn’t find something it can pass, he said, voters “are going to lose complete faith in the party’s ability to legislate. All the national statistics show the American people believe in immigration reform.”

The industry insists its chronic labor shortage isn’t a matter of low pay, but too few Americans willing to deal with the long hours, hot weather and other hardships of farm labor.

“The truth is, not even farm workers are raising their children to be farm workers,” Nassif said.

The Senate bill would enable experienced farm workers already in the country illegally to obtain “blue cards” making them eligible for year-round residency and ultimately citizenship, on a faster path than other people here illegally. Applicants who entered the U.S. illegally would have to pay a fine, catch up on taxes and pass a background check. Another new program would allow farmers to hire foreign “guest workers” who would be issued three-year visas.

But such policies might be a hard sell with House conservatives who deride the idea as “amnesty.”

Rep. Justin Amash, whose western Michigan district includes the city of Grand Rapids and outlying farm country, is typical of Republicans feeling pressure from both sides.

Home-state farmers visited his Washington, D.C., office twice last week. Mark Youngquist, an apple grower from Amash’s district, later gave one of his aides an orchard tour. During a town-hall meeting the same day, the second-term Republican described the farm labor shortage as “a problem we should deal with” and called for compromise on immigration.

But Amash’s comment that deportation wasn’t a realistic way to deal with all 11 million people believed to be in the country illegally drew angry shouts. “They’re criminals,” one man protested.

Youngquist, 53, another staunch Republican, said he wished his fellow conservatives were more sympathetic toward immigrants who fill jobs that no one else will take. The more intense border enforcement appears to be taking its toll, he said. His migrant labor housing that is usually half-full for the approaching apple harvest is now “at zero,” he said. “We’re sitting on a beautiful crop of apples. Unless things change, none of it is going to get picked.”

___

Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed to this report from Cedar Springs, Mich.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Three Chinese corporate giants leaving NY stock exchange

BEIJING (AP) — Three state-owned Chinese corporate giants announced plans Friday to remove their shares from the New York Stock Exchange amid a dispute between Washington and Beijing over whether U.S. regulators can see records of their auditors. PetroChina Ltd., China Life Insurance Ltd. and China Petroleum & Chemical Co. cited the small trading volume […]
4 hours ago
U.S. and Indonesian soldiers take their positions during Super Garuda Shield 2022 joint military ex...
Associated Press

US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns

BATURAJA, Indonesia (AP) — Soldiers from the U.S., Indonesia and Australia joined a live-fire drill on Friday, part of annual joint combat exercises on Sumatra island amid growing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region. A total of more than 5,000 personnel from the U.S., Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s […]
4 hours ago
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin during th...
Associated Press

UN chief affirms support for denuclearized North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday proclaimed unwavering U.N. commitment to a fully denuclearized North Korea, even as a divided Security Council allows more room for the isolated country to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Meeting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul, Guterres said […]
4 hours ago
FILE - A man wearing a face mask walks past a billboard advertising Chinese technology firm Huawei ...
Associated Press

China’s Huawei says sales down but new ventures growing

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese tech giant Huawei said Friday its revenue fell in the first half of 2022 but new ventures in autos and other industries helped to offset a decline in smartphone sales under U.S. sanctions. Revenue fell 5.9% from a year earlier to 301.6 billion yuan ($44.8 billion) in the six months through […]
4 hours ago
A currency trader passes by screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), left, an...
Associated Press

World shares mostly higher after new signs inflation cooling

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares opened higher in Europe after a mixed day in Asia on Friday following another encouraging report about U.S. inflation. The United Kingdom reported its economy contracted 0.1% in the last quarter as families cut back on spending to cope with price increases. The decline was better than most forecasts. “So basically, […]
1 day ago
FILE - People walk outside the U.S Capitol building in Washington, June 9, 2022. The biggest invest...
Associated Press

In Biden’s big bill: Climate, health care, deficit reduction

WASHINGTON (AP) — The biggest investment ever in the U.S. to fight climate change. A hard-fought cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors in the Medicare program. A new corporate minimum tax to ensure big businesses pay their share. And billions left over to pay down federal deficits. All told, the Democrats’ “Inflation Reduction […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Farmers worry about fate of immigration bills