Obama immigration speech: Business reacts more cautiously than agriculture
December 3, 2014
President Barack Obama tonight delivered a nationally televised speech on his executive action on immigration that included a brief reference to farm workers.
Obama said that he would provide "additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over" and "make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed."
The president also said he would offer immigrants who are already in the country "the following deal: If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes — you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
In his only reference to farm workers, Obama asked, "Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?"
Political reaction was along party lines. But in general, business groups who issued statements tonight were more supportive than farm leaders.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said, "The president's proposed actions today are lawless, unconstitutional, and are a direct insult to the American people."
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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she supports the president's actions but plans to re-introduce her agriculture jobs bill.
"The president's decision is especially important for California," Feinstein said. "According to the White House, more than 150,000 of California's agricultural workers will likely be eligible for deferred action and temporary work authorization. This will help ensure that our farms can continue to feed the country and the world."
"I plan to re-introduce a bill similar to the agricultural worker provisions from the Senate bill as stand-alone legislation next year, which I believe will offer Congress a starting point for further action," Feinstein said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was more cautious in its reaction than the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Apple Association.
"Executive actions cannot adequately fix our broken immigration system, and they raise important legal and constitutional questions," Chamber President and CEO Tom Donahue said.
"Yet the debate over the president's announcement must not be allowed to forestall progress on critical priorities such as expanding trade and energy production, strengthening our national defense, reforming the regulatory process, or tending to the immediate and longer-term fiscal challenges facing our nation."
Bob Stallman, president of the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation, said, "In practical terms, we do not expect the president's initiative to help America's farmers deal with the real labor challenges they face. Our nation loses millions of dollars in fruit and vegetable production every year because farmers cannot find labor to harvest everything they grow. This order will not change that."
"Farmers and ranchers need a new, flexible visa program that ensures long-term access to an expanding workforce by allowing foreign-born workers to enter the U.S. We also need to permit some current workers, many of whom have helped sustain our operations for years, to remain working in America," Stallman said.
"Congress has a golden opportunity to present a clear vision on immigration in America," he continued. "We need legislation that addresses border security and enforcement, improves an outdated agricultural visa program and gives experienced agricultural workers a way to gain legal status."
The U.S. Apple Association said, "The president's action does little to change the uncertainty faced by apple growers from coast-to-coast as they seek to plant, harvest and deliver the premium apple crop demanded by our U.S. and global customers."
"Every year, labor shortages force many growers to leave apples on the tree, unpicked," the apple growers group said. "Those utilizing the H-2A guestworker program regularly run into bureaucratic delays that make the program cost prohibitive and nearly impossible to navigate. In short, only legislation can solve the problem which our leaders have recognized as our top priority for nearly a decade."
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, who held a rally in front of the White House on Wednesday, met with Obama and announced that the president believes the order will protect 250,000 farm workers, said, "Farm workers, who have lived in the United States for five years and have children, who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, who pass a criminal background check, pay all of their taxes, and pay a fee will be able to work and live in the United States without fear of deportation."
Rodriguez said that those needing more information may contact the UFW Foundation.
"We encourage everyone who believes they or someone they know is eligible to contact the UFW Foundation at 877-881-8281 or text at 877877, and to go to sisepuede.org," Rodriguez said.
Frank Sharry of America's Voice said, "This is the biggest victory for immigrants and their allies in the past 25 years. We rejoice with the millions who can come forward, get a work permit and live without fear. …"
"We recognize that we have a fight ahead of us," Sharry said.
"We know the Republicans are bent on stopping the president's policies before they are implemented. But we will challenge them at every turn and pull back the veil on their process objections to expose the truth: 1) they have no policy alternative other than deportation; and 2) if they let the nativists define and direct their party's response, they will be permanently branded as a party hostile to Latinos, Asian-Americans and other immigrants."
"We pray for a change of heart, but if that is not forthcoming, we will work for a change of Congress." Sharry said.
"As for Democrats, to date we have been encouraged that most Democrats are defending this executive action with full-throated support against the howls of Republican opposition," he added. "We expect all Democrats to follow suit."
–The Hagstrom Report