Attempt to revive AgJobs portion of Immigration bill

“Feinstein to push guest-worker bill; Senator to assure that farm legislation is a priority in today’s Fresno appearance.” – The Fresno Bee, 8 23 07
One of the casualties in the immigration bill fiasco was the “AgJobs’ provision in the bill, crafted to solve a major labor shortage in Californian farms. The Bee reports:
Dubbed AgJobs, the legislation first introduced in September 2003 culminated years of negotiations among farmers and the United Farm Workers. It would offer legal residency, and eventually U.S. citizenship, to 1.5 million illegal immigrants now working in agriculture. It also would streamline an existing guest-worker program.
Step one in the plan for passage calls for farmers and their allies to emphasize anew the dangers of losing an agricultural work force.
One-third or more of U.S. farmworkers are in this country illegally, according to conventional estimates.
‘You can’t pick peaches or operate a canning plant if you don’t have the people,’ Cunha said.
An active player in immigration negotiations, Cunha will be watching Feinstein’s appearance today at Fresno’s Sunnyside Country Club. Recently, Cunha took part in an immigration conference call with White House officials who are maneuvering in their own way.
Step two relies on the latest promise by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that he will help pass an agricultural guest-worker bill this year. With Senate floor time limited, and the legislative calendar running out, a commitment like this becomes essential.
Step three in the AgJobs game plan relies on employer anxiety over a new Bush administration plan for cracking down on companies that hire illegal immigrants. Two weeks ago, the White House announced plans to send out tens of thousands of so-called ‘no-match’ letters.
These letters will notify employers that an employee’s name and Social Security number don’t match government records. Potentially, employers could be fined for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. More than one agricultural lobbyist believes the White House hopes that angry business leaders will now lean on Congress to change the immigration laws.
The full story:


Washington — Get ready for another ride on the immigration roller coaster.
Today, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be assuring a San Joaquin Valley audience that Congress will once more take up a big agricultural guest-worker bill. A top priority for Valley farmers, the bill soon could resurface on Capitol Hill.
‘Agriculture is going to push this thing,’ Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, said Wednesday.
The agricultural guest-worker package is getting its second wind two months after comprehensive immigration reform collapsed in the Senate. It still faces very steep odds. However, political optimists can sketch out a scenario for snatching success from seeming defeat.
Dubbed AgJobs, the legislation first introduced in September 2003 culminated years of negotiations among farmers and the United Farm Workers. It would offer legal residency, and eventually U.S. citizenship, to 1.5 million illegal immigrants now working in agriculture. It also would streamline an existing guest-worker program.
Step one in the plan for passage calls for farmers and their allies to emphasize anew the dangers of losing an agricultural work force.
One-third or more of U.S. farmworkers are in this country illegally, according to conventional estimates.
‘You can’t pick peaches or operate a canning plant if you don’t have the people,’ Cunha said.
An active player in immigration negotiations, Cunha will be watching Feinstein’s appearance today at Fresno’s Sunnyside Country Club. Recently, Cunha took part in an immigration conference call with White House officials who are maneuvering in their own way.
Step two relies on the latest promise by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that he will help pass an agricultural guest-worker bill this year. With Senate floor time limited, and the legislative calendar running out, a commitment like this becomes essential.
‘I am committed to doing something about AgJobs,’ Reid declared in late July, in response to Feinstein’s questions. ‘I hope we can do something soon.’
Revealing one potential but controversial new tactic, Reid specified he ‘will do everything’ he can to include the agricultural guest-worker package as part of a larger farm bill. The House already has passed its version of a farm bill, without immigration provisions.
The Senate will take up the issue next.
But with billions of dollars of agricultural subsidies at stake, the farm bill has a political constituency that may be hesitant about getting bogged down in immigration.
‘There are some issues that are going to require some major amending before we will be agreeable to bringing that bill up on the farm bill,’ Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia cautioned during debate.
If the farm bill doesn’t work out as a vehicle, Reid added, he will try to bring up the 109-page agricultural guest-worker bill as a ‘freestanding’ bill or perhaps attach it to something else.
‘There is no industry in the United States that faces the crisis agriculture does right now,’ Feinstein declared.
Step three in the AgJobs game plan relies on employer anxiety over a new Bush administration plan for cracking down on companies that hire illegal immigrants. Two weeks ago, the White House announced plans to send out tens of thousands of so-called ‘no-match’ letters.
These letters will notify employers that an employee’s name and Social Security number don’t match government records. Potentially, employers could be fined for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. More than one agricultural lobbyist believes the White House hopes that angry business leaders will now lean on Congress to change the immigration laws.
‘I think that’s going to increase the motivation,’ Cunha said.
Thirty senators currently co-sponsor the AgJobs bill, although Feinstein said she believes she has the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster. Even so, the House would then have to approve its own version of the bill, which is something that Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, have urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to do.

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