All the talk in Washington revolves around the budget and a possible shutdown of the government, yet progress is being quietly made on a key agricultural issue. While the Farm Bill remains in limbo, work on immigration reform is being done behind the scenes. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mike McCaul, hold out hopes for floor action on immigration reform by late October. Both are working on separate bills that deal with different aspects of immigration reform. Goodlatte has been discussing possible legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. He’s also been working with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a fellow Virginia Republican, on a bill offering citizenship to immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack says action on both a Farm Bill and immigration are needed quickly, “I hope they understand the crisis that has occurred in agriculture as a result of not fixing the immigration system.” Vilsack told HAT that the uncertainty over farm policy and farm labor issues has paralyzed progress in the ag sector. He said farmers are not sure what crop policy will be and not sure if they will have a labor force for the 2014 growing season.
The Senate passed a sweeping immigration form package this summer, but the GOP-controlled House is wrestling with what to do with those immigrants that are in the country illegally, many working in agriculture. Vilsack says farm groups support the idea of providing a pathway to citizenship, “If you straighten border security and don’t deal with the citizenship issue, you lock 12 million people, many of whom work in agriculture, into the country with no place to go.”
Conservative Republicans are opposed to amnesty but a delicate balance seems to have growing support in the House. Goodlatte has made it clear he wants to see the issue solved.
House Speaker John Boehner and other members of the House Republican leadership also support a resolution to an issue that has become a political drag for their party. While Goodlatte has been outspoken about his desire to get legislation to the floor as soon as possible, House leaders have been more circumspect, adding to the uncertainty about whether or when anything actually will happen. “Moving immigration forward remains a priority, but right now there’s no firm timetable,” Doug Heye, a spokesman for Cantor, told Fox News.
Vilsack says action on both a Farm Bill and immigration is needed soon, “If you give farmers certainty on ag policy and certainty on a farm workforce, American agriculture will continue to set the kind of records it has set recently.” He added failure by Congress to deal with both the Farm Bill and Immigration reform would be a setback for American agriculture.