Courtesy Capitol Architect
Agriculture lost some moderate friends in the U.S. House in Tuesday’s election but now has opportunity to educate new members on immigration and the need for a dependable, legal farm workforce, says Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council for Agricultural Employers in Washington, D.C.
As Democrats won control of the House from Republicans, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., was a friend agriculture lost but California Republicans Jeff Denham and David Valadao both appear to have won, Marsh noted.
“We lost some people we could work with but it also gives us opportunity to educate people about our issues to see if we can bridge the divide on a pathway for ag labor reform,” Marsh said.
He said he hopes new Democratic members of Congress will be moderate because it takes “the middle to move legislation.”
Agricultural leaders are discussing the best approach to try to move an ag labor bill and broader immigration reform in the next Congress, Marsh said.
“I wouldn’t want to handicap it at all,” he said.
Appropriations bills will take priority in the lame duck Congress over another run at the Ag and Legal Workforce Act, HR 6417, but the H-2A-visa foreign guestworker program could be improved in an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill, Marsh said.
Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, sponsored an amendment that allows H-2A to be used by year-round farmworkers, not just seasonal workers, for fiscal year 2019.
It would help the dairy, mushroom and greenhouse industries and could pass because Republicans will want to pass appropriations while they have the votes, Marsh said.
Also the Office of Management and Budget will issue a notice of proposed rule making within the next week or two aimed at improving H-2A rules, he said.
HR 6417 replaced H-2A with a new H-2C program but failed to get a House vote in July. It was opposed by Western Growers and the California Farm Bureau Federation who feared its E-verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) would devastate California’s ag labor workforce without better transition to legal status for the 50 to 70-percent of illegal immigrant farmworkers.
Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., will chair the House Agriculture Committee and is a “good steady hand that will bring continuity,” Marsh said. That bodes well for the Farm Bill, he said.
“But as far as what some other committees might chose to do, that’s anybody’s guess. When the gavels change hands, it does make a difference,” Marsh said. “My fight will be to educate new folks on ag labor.”