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Immigration Bill Doomed

Congressional Quarterly put it this way:


Comprehensive immigration legislation, President Bush’s top domestic priority this year, suffered a devastating blow in the Senate today that may prove to be the death knell for the bill in the 110th Congress.

On a 46-53 vote, the Senate failed to invoke cloture and limit debate on the bill (S 1639). It was the second time this month that backers of the legislation proved unable to muster the 60 votes needed to surmount opposition to the legislation from conservative Republicans and a mixed group of liberals and Democrats representing more generally GOP states. Indeed, the effort picked up only one new vote since June 7, when an effort to limit debate on an earlier version of the bill failed by 45-50.

The legislation before the Senate was the product of a “grand bargain” involving the White House and about a dozen senators from both parties. But the fragile compromise suited almost no one entirely…

United Fresh Produce Association expressed itself this way:

United Fresh Bitterly Disappointed
in Senate Action Today on
Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Washington, DC — In a procedural vote today by the United States Senate, debate on legislation that would reform our nation’s immigration laws was blocked and comprehensive immigration legislation was pulled from the Senate floor. A vote was called earlier today that would have ended debate on the bill and allow the Senate to move forward with final consideration and possible passage. It failed to secure the 60 votes required by a vote of 46-53 and effectively ended any consideration for immigration reform for the foreseeable future.

“We are deeply disappointed in the lack of fortitude in the Senate to address one of the most serious policy and human issues facing our country today,” said Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for United Fresh Produce Association. “This country expects our elected officials to demonstrate leadership and today that expectation was dashed by many U.S. Senators,” Guenther added.

The bill would have addressed many of the problems associated with our nation’s immigration laws, including enhanced border security; increased enforcement of employer prohibitions in hiring illegal immigrants; a transition to legal status of the 12 million illegal aliens currently in the U.S.; and provisions for future temporary worker programs to fill jobs where there are insufficient U.S. workers. Most importantly, this legislation would have secured a legal agricultural workforce while offering a practical approach to stabilizing the farm worker labor crisis.

This fight is far from over, and the produce industry has made it clear that inaction is unacceptable. Over the past 18 months, hundreds of industry members have gone to Washington, DC to participate in grassroots efforts to encourage Congress to support American agriculture.

“Apple growers have spoken of leaving fruit on their trees. Vegetable farmers have said they must choose which crops to harvest, because they were short workers to pick them all. Produce shippers and packers are offering wages far above minimum wage and exceeding local pay rates in other business sectors only to find a handful of applicants for more than 100 job openings. Too much is at stake for our industry to stop now,” Guenther added. “United Fresh will continue to demand Congress address this important issue,” Guenther concluded.

The disappointment of Robert Guenther, Tom Stenzel and the rest of the team at United Fresh is palpable and understandable. Not only did they work masterfully, forming alliances, working with regional groups, working with the nursery people, etc., but they tapped into a great grassroots effort.

United Fresh pulled out all the stops. PMA worked the buying end of the industry. The regional associations all hit their representatives up hard. So many worked so hard. Jim Allen at New York Apple Association was a magnificent advocate for his growers. He wrote guest columns everywhere that would have them — we did a few at the Pundit including here and here. Jim even got Myra Gordon, Executive Administrative Director at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association, to put on her best St. John’s knit and go door to door scoring signatures on a petition. Everyone played every angle.

In the end, it must be noted, the produce industry succeeded, its interests agreed to without any real controversy. Alas, the bird on whose wings this industry hoped to fly, was simply too heavy to get airborne. It turns out that though immigration reform may be important to agriculture, it is not an issue that Congress perceives as primarily agricultural in nature.

We’ll have many a day to discuss the best strategy now and what the options might be in the weeks and months ahead.

For this weekend, let us tip our hat to the people who really tried to make something happen for this industry. We are very lucky to have them.

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