Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), an immigration hardliner who now heads the House Judiciary Committee, plans to introduce a bill Wednesday that would revise an existing guest-worker program and allow up to half a million foreign farm workers a year to work in the U.S.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R., Calif.), whose district includes almond, rice and grape growers, also is seeking the creation of a new visa category for agricultural workers. He said it would allow “hundreds of thousands” of foreign farm laborers to work in the U.S. for 10 months at a time, the same time frame allotted by Mr. Smith’s proposal.
Stepped-up lobbying by farm groups on the issue amounts to a frank admission about their dependence on a foreign-born work force—whether legal or not. Their argument is that most American workers have shunned farm jobs because many are of a seasonal, migratory nature as well as being physically arduous. …
The two agriculture-related proposals in Congress are an attempt to placate farmers who have been descending on Washington since June to fight a separate bill being pushed by Mr. Smith.
Farm groups claim that bill, known as the E-Verify bill, would lead to a severe labor shortage for a sector that relies on undocumented farm hands.
Smith’s two bills would seem to alleviate some of the chief economic concerns stemming from HB 87, the new Georgia law aimed at curbing illegal immigration: One would require businesses outside Georgia to use the federal E-Verify system to check workers’ immigration status, potentially putting them on the same footing as Georgia businesses are under HB 87 (depending on the final details). The other would help prevent a farm labor shortage like the one seen in some parts of Georgia this summer.
Immigration also appears to be an issue with which Mitt Romney will try to create some distance between himself and Rick Perry.
If Washington would like to take the lead on this issue after letting it languish so long that Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and other states decided to take matters into their own hands, well, it’s about time.
– By Kyle Wingfield