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Veach: We must reform our broken immigration system

7/25/2013 at 12:00 a.m.

By Randy Veach, ARFB president

Column originally published in the summer issue of Arkansas Agriculture magazine.

There are so many confusing, frustrating and sometimes emotional issues surrounding our nation’s immigration system. We’re a nation of immigrants, of course, but the challenges of today’s world make our present system almost obsolete. Just about everyone agrees the system is broken.

Immigration reform is critical for agriculture, as you most certainly know. It’s imperative the guest-worker program be reformed. The challenge of getting legal workers on our farms today has become so daunting it’s strangling many of our farms and ranches.

This is a sticky wicket, of course. Where to start? Deal with the illegals here now? Secure the border? Define a path to legal citizenship? Pass laws making it easier to gain access to workers legally?

The answer is a comprehensive bill addressing all these issues.

The U.S. Senate passed S. 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” back in June. Farmers and ranchers welcomed it.

Passage of the Senate bill was the first step toward securing a comprehensive agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and across all regions of our nation. The Senate-passed bill would help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor. It also could provide increased surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders.

We need the House of Representatives to bring its proposal to the table. If, and when, the House passes something, the real debate can begin as they try to reach common ground on those two pieces of legislation.

Let me be clear. Our first priority should be to enforce the laws we have on the books now. If we’re able to pass new immigration laws, but don’t enforce them any better than the ones we now have, we’ll have done nothing.

Border security will occupy much of the discussion on this issue, and rightfully so. It must be an enforcement priority and a critical part of any immigration reform. But know there is far more to border security than fencing. We must continue to drive home the point that one of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. With less time and resources wasted locking up lettuce harvesters, the focus can shift to where it properly belongs – keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country.

Although the specific labor needs of farmers in Arkansas differ from those in Texas, Florida or Michigan, all of agriculture benefits from ag immigration reform.

Helping members of Congress and the public understand farmers and ranchers depend on the workers who show up every day to tend our crops and raise livestock has been challenging at times. However, we press on because we know responsible immigration reform is imperative for the continued success of American agriculture.

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