Immigration bill to benefit Western Slope agriculture
Western Slope agricultural interests will benefit in the Senate-passed immigration bill, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said.
“I think rural America is a huge winner” in the measure, Bennet said Thursday, shortly after the bill fashioned by what he calls the “Group of Eight” passed the Senate.
He first learned of agriculture’s need for a better approach in a visit to Talbott Farms, Bennet said, noting that the measure will accommodate the kinds of seasonal employment needed by Talbott Farms and other fruit-growing and farming businesses.
Peach growers, for instance, need workers for one three-week period, Bennet said, but the current structure allows no predictability about who they can hire.
That’s the problem his company is facing right now, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms said Thursday.
“We’re trying to farm with out-of-work construction guys,” Talbott said. “They don’t have the skills” that the Central American workers familiar with the agricultural practices his business needs can provide.
“They are really good at what they do,” Talbott said, noting that he can turn loose those skilled workers in his fields for weeks without having to supervise them.
The visa program also would change significantly under the Senate version, Bennet said, noting that jurisdiction of the program would transfer from the Labor Department to Agriculture Department, which “understands farmers and ranchers.”
Better coordination between farmers, ranchers, government and foreign workers would provide legal status, not citizenship, for workers and get them “out of the shadows,” Bennet said.
While the measure has the support of fruit-growing businesses around the country as well as organizations representing farm workers, hurdles remain within the industry, Talbott said.
Previous redrafts of immigration law have promised secure borders and better handling of workers and agricultural interests, Talbott said, but those promises went unfulfilled, leading to some deep-seated doubts.
“This is round 3 and nobody believes them,” Talbott said.
In the meantime, Talbott knows that his current crew could depart on a moment’s notice if there is a surge in the construction industry.
The House is working on its own version of immigration reform and a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said Tipton wants reform to fix existing problems and that verifiable border security must be the first step.
Ski areas experience similar difficulties and the Senate measure will be an improvement for employers and employees from other countries, Bennet said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., voted for the Senate measure and called it “a historic victory for hardworking Colorado families who demanded that Congress find a tough, but fair, way to strengthen our borders and create a sensible pathway to earned citizenship for the millions living in the shadows.”
With the Senate vote complete, “Everyone should take a breath” and study the measure before offering a separate measure, Bennet said.
“There are a lot of moving pieces from a political point of view and they all kind of hang together,” Bennet said. “My hope is that the people in the House will take a look at it.”