Ideological inflexibility could hurt horticulture industry

It’s not a stretch to say standing up for your own ideals and beliefs is noble. But there’s a point where blindly standing up for your ideals turns from noble to pig-headed.

This is exhibited best in none other than the U.S. government. We saw a taste of it this month when the House Judiciary Committee punted on two pieces of legislation that would affect a good portion the horticulture workforce.

According to Craig Regelbrugge, the American Horticultural Industry Association’s vice president for government relations and research, the House Judiciary Committee was set to consider two bills: the Agricultural Guestworker Act and the Legal Workforce Act.

Congress Horticulture Industry

Two bills up for consideration in the House Judiciary Committee could affect the agriculture and horticulture industry. (Image by Ron Cogswell, Flickr, used under Creative Commons)

The AG Act would transition the existing H-2A agricultural worker visa program into a new H-2C program. The Agricultural Guestworker Act would make the E-Verify electronic employment eligibility verification system mandatory for all employers over a period of three years.

But just when the bills were set to go to markup (the process of debating, amending and rewriting proposed legislation in committee), the House Judiciary Committee postponed the discussion.

“The reason? Apparently, a growing number of Republicans objected to some of the Ag Act provisions, potentially jeopardizing Chairman (Bob) Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) ability to successfully move the legislation through the Committee process,” Regelbrugge said in an article on the AmericanHort KnowledgeCenter website. “Because not a single Democrat is expected to support the bill, the Chairman can only lose three Republican votes and still pass a bill.”

Ideological inflexibility could hurt the horticulture industry

Regelbrugge said the word on the street is some Republicans on the committee are thought to oppose all options for current unauthorized horticultural and agricultural workers to transition to a legal work-authorized status.

On face value, one could easily argue these committee members are 100 percent correct. By rule, anyone who has entered the country illegally has broken the law. Based off that, one could then argue anyone who has broken the law does not deserve a chance to earn a work visa.

However, there’s a problem with looking at this scenario through a myopic ideological lens — one that could cripple a portion of the U.S. economy. According to Regelbrugge, there are more than a million unauthorized farm workers estimated to be in the United States.

“No seriously informed person believes that they could be deported and replaced with new workers while avoiding an agricultural, food system, and economic disaster,” Regelbrugge said.

There’s another problem with this ideological inflexibility: It completely ignores how we got in this situation in the first place. As I’ve said many times before, the federal government allowed this to happen in the first place by willfully turning a blind eye to how seasonal workers entered the country for decades.

After the Industrial Revolution all but killed the country’s agrarian roots, the United States had to import agricultural workers from countries that did not progress as quickly. Since this seemed harmless at the time, the federal government turned a blind eye to how these workers entered the country.

But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the economic disaster that began later that decade, a huge spotlight was shined on illegal immigration. The same federal government that was glad there were enough qualified workers to fill agricultural and horticultural jobs is the same federal government telling these workers they now are criminals within the span of 10 years.

Can you see why this issue doesn’t live in a black-and-white reality?

Growers need to stay informed of legislative changes

For the time being, this debate is up in the air. Regelbrugge said AmericanHort and other industry groups have passed their support on to Goodlatte’s for the bills to move through committee.

Regelbrugge said the AG Act, as its currently written, has some good and bad points to it. And, if the mandatory E-Verify passes without the Ag Act, it would be “disastrous” to the horticulture and agriculture industries, he said.

But that’s why the industries support the bills going through committee. In the hands of the committee, these bills will be discussed and cleaned up. It’s that discussion Regelbrugge and his peers are counting on so legislators can learn how an ideological impasse could cripple a portion of the economy.

And, as I always say when discussing legislation, growers need to be ready for any legislative changes. Having a solid HR system in place, like Sage HRMS, can help growers stay in compliance no matter what legislation comes down the pike.

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