Ag groups help launch immigration reform campaign

2017-12-07 | The Wenatchee World

Dec. 06--BREWSTER -- The Washington Growers League and Okanogan County Farm Bureau joined Wednesday's launch of the iMarch for Immigration campaign, a national effort to encourage Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The change, industry representatives said, should start with protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is set to expire in a few months.

Fixing DACA would set the stage for other reforms that would help North Central Washington's agriculture industry, which depends on migrant workers.

"The agriculture industry has experienced labor shortages for several years and continues to have labor shortages," said Washington Growers League Executive Director Mike Gemple. "All indications are that the situation will continue to get worse until something is done. We need solutions before the problem disrupts the ability to do business."

He was joined in a teleconference Wednesday by Jon Wyss of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau.

Wyss and Gempler both pushed for action on the DACA legislation as a first step. Their hope is to resolve some other immigration and labor shortage concerns that threaten farmers' efforts to expand.

The Growers League, a Yakima-based nonprofit that helps agricultural employers with labor and employment issues, favors a comprehensive solution that ensures a flow of legal, skilled workers. That means addressing the legal status of the existing workforce as well as their children.

"We would like to see a way for those folks to gain legal status to stay here and continue working, he said.

The other big area of concern is improving guest-worker programs to provide more mobility and accessibility to workers, particularly for smaller growers.

"We are struggling to make this outdated program fit with modern agriculture." Wyss said. "Unfortunately, in the last decade, the government has done precious little to improve the situation. Real and comprehensive reform is long overdue."

With record low unemployment, Washington state needs the supplemental labor force. The timing is good to take action now, he said.

"There is an opportunity to bundle some of the immigration packages together. Immigration reform can be taken in steps," he said. "A good first step is dealing with DACA. That could be a catalyst for discussion on the other immigration programs moving forward."

The iMarch Campaign, a nationwide virtual march for immigration reform, is backed by leaders in the business, agriculture, education, tech and faith sectors, state and local elected officials, and voices from both sides of the political spectrum. For information visit imarch.us.

Reach Nevonne McDaniels at 509-664-7151 or mcdaniels@wenatcheeworld.com.

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