Growing Produce. 25 July 2013. United Fresh Produce Association’s 2013 Summer Public Policy Webinar Series recently kicked off with an update on immigration reform and how it applies to growers. Brian Worth, coalitions director for office of the Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives; Charles Wingard, director of field operations, for Walter P. Rawl & Sons, Inc; and Robert Guenther, senior vice president, public policy, United Fresh Produce Association provided insight into the steps Congress has taken thus far in 2013 in regards to immigration reform.
Guenther gave some of the history on the bill that passed in the Senate earlier this year and currently stands in the House of Representatives.
Worth, who alluded to the difference between the bill that passed in the Senate and the makings of the immigration reform legislation in the House Judiciary Committee, said, more than likely, immigration reform will be broken into several pieces. He noted Republicans preference to passing individual pieces versus a larger bill. Worth also said members of Congress will be using the August recess to connect with their constituents and hear how immigration reform will impact them. He said there is a perception that immigration reform is not a top priority, given that legislators have not heard from their representative body.
Wingard urged growers to “tell your story” by contacting representatives and discussing how the current guestworker program is flawed and what growers need moving forward.
Guenther ended the webinar by giving growers contact information and urged them to contact their representatives.
For more information on the webinar series or to register for a future webinar, click here. For more from United Fresh and their immigration reform coverage, click here.
In a follow-up interview, Wingard stressed the need for growers to use the August congressional recess as a time to put a grower’s face to the immigration issue for the representatives.
“We’ve got to tell our story ourselves. Nobody can tell my story as good and as passionately as I can tell the story,” he said. “Nobody feels the pain that the growers will feel if there’s inaction on this issue. … We can not afford for them not to hear from us. Early, often, late, and loudly.”
Wingard noted that growers have to make immigration a priority to their representatives, because of the perception that it isn’t a big issue.“There’s a lot of truth to strengths in numbers. We need for our representatives to go back to DC in September and say ‘I really heard from my farmers; they got a serious problem. This is what they think we need to do.’”
When growers talk to their representatives, Wingard said that facts and statistical evidence need to be a part of the story.
“(Growers need) to put facts to their story. They’ve got to relate their story to their legislators in dollars, numbers of jobs, how much crop was lost in the field because they couldn’t get it harvested, how many people could they hire if they could grow more acres,” he said. “(Growers) have to have hard, legitimate numbers to put in front of (the legislators).”
Wingard summed up the immigration facing growers as “if status quo was working, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
He added that he worries that inactivity may lead to serious consequences for the agriculture industry. “If our industry does nothing, we might just get nothing and I don’t want to take that chance.”