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Compromise Reached On Immigration Reform, But The Battle Is Far From Over

High-Fives were being passed around the ag community in D.C. today as key Senators announced an agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform package.

Autumn L. Veazey from United Fresh sent out this notice to those who had played a part in this battle:

Dear Participants of Agriculture Supporting Immigration Reform,

Today, the Senate Democrat and Republican leadership announced at 1:30 p.m. that a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, including AgJOBs, has been reached in the Senate. This is a tremendous accomplishment and leaders from both parties who have been so far apart on many issues just stood together at 1:30 p.m. press conference giving strong support to the compromise.

For those of you who have worked so hard on this issue for so long, congratulations and thank you. In essence, your sacrifice and hard work has paid off. Most importantly, this could not have been achieved without your presence on Capitol Hill yesterday. Having more than 150 agricultural leaders in Washington this week, urging their Members of Congress to support AgJOBS and immigration reform for our industry was critical to making today’s compromise happen. In addition, the combined efforts of the agricultural organizations were critical to making today’s compromise happen.

Additional details will be forthcoming on specifics of the Senate compromise. As in most cases, the devil is in the details, and we understand that some of the details have yet to be worked out. However, we will keep you informed as we receive up-to-date information.

Finally, all must recognize that this is not the end of the battle. Senate leadership will be critical, but the action will soon turn toward the House of Representatives, where further debate will take place. This will require our constant diligence and hard work until a law is finally signed by the President.

Once again, thank you for your hard work!

Autumn L. Veazey
Director of Legislative Affairs, Associate Counsel
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, D.C

Robert Guenther, United’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy, was especially encouraged because of who was part of the process, as Robert told us in an e-mail:

Every significant Senator who has been involved with this issue over the last several years participated in the press conference announcing the deal. This would include: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Larry Craig, Sen. John Kyl, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Sen. Mel Martinez, Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Lindsay Graham, Sen. Ken Alazar. There may have been others that did not speak but also participated.

Yet, although lauding the compromise as a “tremendous accomplishment” United Fresh acknowledged in an alert sent to its members:

Additional details will be forthcoming on specifics of the Senate compromise. And, all must recognize that this is not the end of the battle. Senate leadership will be critical, but the action will soon turn toward the House of Representatives, where further debate will take place. This will require our constant diligence and hard work until a law is finally signed by the President.

We understand that the compromise does not settle all the issues and that the Senators “agreed to disagree” on many important issues, leaving them to be determined by a floor vote.

The news reports such as this one from the Associated Press certainly imply some pretty important Senators are not fully on board:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the proposal a “starting point” for that debate, but added that it needs improvement.

“I have serious concerns about some aspects of this proposal, including the structure of the temporary worker program and undue limitations on family immigration,” Reid said in a statement.

The compromise seems complicated:

The key breakthrough came when negotiators struck a bargain on a so-called “point system” that prioritizes immigrants’ education and skill level over family connections in deciding how to award green cards….

The proposed agreement would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a “Z visa” and — after paying fees and a $5,000 fine — ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. Heads of household would have to return to their home countries first.

They could come forward right away to claim a probationary card that would let them live and work legally in the U.S., but could not begin the path to permanent residency or citizenship until border security improvements and the high-tech worker identification program were completed.

The guest worker program is also contingent on the border security improvements and a high-tech worker ID program although we understand that ag labor is exempt from this provision:

A new temporary guest worker program would also have to wait until those so-called “triggers” had been activated.

Those workers would have to return home after work stints of two years, with little opportunity to gain permanent legal status or ever become U.S. citizens. They could renew their guest worker visas twice, but would be required to leave for a year in between each time.

The most significant change in future immigration policy would be the restricting of “family ties” preferences to spouses and minor children. Instead legal immigration would move toward preferences based on skills and education, though this change would be years in the future, as the compromise anticipates getting through all existing waiting lists.

The compromise will probably have very broad support in the Senate but conservatives will give it a fight. The National Review, a conservative publication, editorialized against the compromise:

“The fight over legalization, or ‘amnesty,’ is all but over,” exults the Manhattan Institute’s Tamar Jacoby, and the “yahoos” who oppose it have been routed. She is right about who has won, at least as far as the Senate is concerned. The Bush-Kennedy immigration “reform,” which is now expected to win broad bipartisan support in that chamber, provides legal status for an estimated 12 million illegal aliens. In exchange for the massive, unpopular amnesty, Senator Kennedy is willing to engage in a little “border dressing” that purports to beef up enforcement of current laws barring illegal entry and the employment of illegal workers. As in the past, supporters of border and workplace enforcement will get the rhetoric, illegal aliens the prize, and taxpayers the huge tab…

Bush-Kennedy includes some enforcement “triggers” that increase resources at the border and establish an employment-verification program before amnesty or the new temporary-worker program can take effect. But there is no requirement that these measures be proved effective before the full implementation of Kennedy’s wish list, and the reform does not include critical provisions to prevent identity theft and the use of fraudulent documents….

…the enormous cost of granting legal status to millions of illegal aliens is being wholly ignored. Nearly two-thirds of illegal immigrants are low-skilled workers. Based on a detailed analysis of the net cost of low-skill households, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates that the typical illegal-alien household receives $19,588 more in benefits than it pays in taxes each year. He explains that these costs would increase dramatically when an illegal alien reached retirement. Rector estimates that if all current illegal aliens were granted amnesty, the net retirement costs (benefits minus taxes) could be over $2.5 trillion.

Nobody has had a chance to really study the compromise but Human Events, another conservative publication, posted a summary of the details of the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act that you can read here. It is, however, a fair bet that they won’t be supporting the compromise. Jed Babbin, the Editor of Human Events who previously had served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, had this to say about the compromise: We haven’t had the time to analyze it yet, but we’ll be back with the fast, concise and hard details on what appears to be an horrifically bad deal.

There is no question that industry members who flew into DC to lobby had a real effect keeping the issue of ag workers highly visible. So thanks are due and satisfaction for something achieved well merited. However, this is far from over.

We have Senator Reid, the Democratic majority leader, saying he has problems with the bill and most of the conservative voices going ballistic. This means we ought to keep the Champagne corked for a bit for as Poppa Pundit often said when his son had expressed an expectation: Tis many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

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