The last time the subject of H 2-A guest farm worker reform garnered this much attention, it was last spring, when a vote on two competing bills, including Senator Larry Craig of Idaho's Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Security bill, AgJOBS for short, failed to gain a supermajority needed to pass the U.S. Senate. But now it appears the subject of illegal immigration, and in particular guest worker reform, is returning to some attention in Congress. For example, the Senate Judiciary Committee today holds a hearing on the matter of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. And according to Mike Gempler of the Washington Growers League, this is just the start of a process of enacting legislation in the Senate.
GEMPLER: The Speaker of the House, Mr. Hastert, has committed to act this year. And President Bush has publicly encouraged Congress to pass legislation this year and has been actively seeking support.
Gempler is among many who remain proponents of AgJOBS. And to emphasize the need for reform, Washington State's Governor Christine Gregoire last week publicly came out in support of AgJOBS. AgJOBS is actually one of five immigration and guest farm worker reform bills under Congressional consideration right now. A competing measure in the House introduced by House Ag Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte differs from AgJOBS in one big way.
GOODLATTE: What we've done is turned that into a program that maintains the current requirement that employers actively recruit U.S. workers for agricultural jobs, but does not provide amnesty for those who are in the United States illegally. It instead allows workers who are currently in the country illegally a chance to return home and enter legally to participate in a valid guest worker program.
But Gempler says the problem with Goodlatte's measure, and some others before Congress, is it minimalizes the impact on the current farm labor force and rural economy, if farm workers with illegal documentation, some who have been in the U.S. for as long as fifteen years, are deported.
GEMPLER: I think it's unrealistic that those folks are going to go home. Senator Larry Craig, as he has said, it not only is highly unlikely but it is almost un-American to think that the United States would engage in an action where they would go essentially door-to-door searching for people who were undocumented, apprehend them, and deport them. We're talking to the tune of fifteen-million people.
AgJOBS' support group did lose a long-time proponent, when the American Farm Bureau Federation felt it could not longer be behind that particular measure when certain reforms were taken out, such as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate.