Congress throws in the towel on immigration reform, while ag still desperately needs it

Those of you trying to find good help in the field need to explain things to Beltway denizens whose idea of manual labor is carrying their own tray in the cafeteria.

Steve Dittmer

February 23, 2018

4 Min Read
Congress throws in the towel on immigration reform, while ag still desperately needs it
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Advocates of immigration reform listen as Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) speaks during a press conference on immigration reform and a looming government shutdown outside the U.S. Capitol January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. Congress continues to wrestle with passage of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past midnight this evening. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)Win McNamee / Staff

After spending several days devoted mainly to finding an immigration solution, the Senate struck out. None of the proposals got more than 54 votes, with 60 needed to bring a bill up for a floor vote. Senate Majority Leader McConnell indicated he wasn’t sure the Senate had the stomach for any more immigration work and the White House seems to lean toward moving on to something else.

Really? This is a problem that has been simmering for a decade or more and if they can’t solve it in three or four days they’re going to throw in the towel? That’s like a boxer throwing in the towel after two rounds of a 15-round fight.

Speaking of labor, those guys wouldn’t last half a morning putting up square bales or wrestling calves. One of the biggest myths out there is that there are no jobs Americans won’t do. Those of us trying to find good help in the field need to explain things to Beltway denizens whose idea of manual labor is carrying their own tray in the cafeteria. 

We have an economy with semi-skilled and skilled labor shortages in agriculture, construction, landscaping and a long list of other industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 5.8 million jobs were unfilled at the end of December 2017, a fairly steady number month to month. And that’s with an economy that has just begun to grow a bit, let alone grow at a 3% to 4% clip.

Related:Ag dodges a bullet in government shutdown

President Trump had proposed allowing up to 1.8 million Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, $25 billion for the border system and in return, an end to the family-chain migration and the diversity lottery. That outline got the fewest votes of all. 

Several other proposals got more votes but none got the 60 votes needed to proceed in the Senate. The House is working on versions of legislation and is expected to take it up after the recess. But with the Senate failing to come to an agreement with their own colleagues, the speculation is the House can’t come up with a bill the Senate will pass.

On the other hand, should the House come up with a reasonable bill, that would put the Senate on the spot. The Senate has done little other than the tax bill to shake their reputation as the place where bills go to die. But the public is certainly getting tired of excuses on immigration. Perhaps President Trump can mobilize enough fury from the electorate to at least make some progress on immigration.

The Democrats, for electoral and emotional reasons, put great store on the DACA participants. The Republicans want to use that leverage to get some of the things they think the country needs on immigration, like real border security and elimination of some of the non-merit based programs, like family-chain and diversity programs. Only a few Congressmen have given attention to a guest worker program that can provide legal nonimmigrant labor needed by agriculture, construction and other industries.

Related:Trump’s approach to trade: Float like a butterfly

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 4092) would provide legal, skilled guest workers, who can be tracked, would go home after a period of time (but could re-certify to know they could come back to good jobs) and have enough numbers (450,000) to do more than just tease ag employers. A portion of the numbers, 40,000, would be allocated for packing house workers, useful as cattle numbers increase.

Similarly to difficulties with reforming Obamacare, part of the problem with immigration is that Republicans have not been able to forge compromises among themselves. President Trump’s proposal included eventual citizenship for the DACA folks, with any path to citizenship rather than some sort of legal status opposed by conservative Republicans. One bill to crack down on sanctuary citizens could not get enough votes.

On the other hand, most Democrats are only concerned about the DACA Dreamers, opposing funding for a wall at all or, as a fallback position, spreading it out over a decade and opposing any tightening of family or diversity programs.

For Democrats, a “compromise” that would get them everything they want would be extending the DACA program—putting off any deportations for a year or more and giving legislative authority to what had been only a President Obama Executive Order—leaving unfinished immigration reform to campaign on this fall. Republicans consider that Executive Order illegal, yet two courts have refused to let the program die while they decide its legality.

Cattlemen could work off a long list were they to talk to their Congressional representatives: sharing their thoughts on their labor situation and whether there are legal American citizens eager to do any sort of work, getting something done on immigration, and urging their representatives to co-sponsor or vote for the Agricultural Guestworker Act.

Dittmer is a longtime beef industry commentator and executive vice president of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation.

About the Author(s)

Steve Dittmer

Steve Dittmer is a longtime industry commentator and principal of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation.

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