Rep. Simpson, House co-sponsor of bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR1603), floats possibility of Senate passage of farm worker bill this year
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BOISE, ID – During a discussion with Idaho farm leaders sponsored by the bipartisan American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-2) spoke to the urgency of passing common sense immigration solutions, such as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, to address the extreme labor shortages facing farm employers.
Simpson, who has been a key leader in bipartisan negotiations that led to House passage of the 2021 Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR1603), expressed hope that legislation could pass the Senate this year.
“I guarantee you the one thing this is not is amnesty,” Simpson said of the farm worker bill. “Anyone who calls this amnesty, frankly, doesn’t know what they are talking about.”
He noted he was inspired to take action by the devastating labor shortages plaguing the agriculture industry since long before the pandemic.
“This is a vitally important issue, probably the most important issue that I’ve worked on while I’ve been in Congress. It would have the biggest impact on the most people across this country and the most industries across this country,” said Rep. Simpson.
Rep. Simpson also spoke to the struggles facing immigrant farm workers working to support their families.
“Once I started getting involved in this and started meeting with a lot of these undocumented workers across the state and across the country, I was so impressed. These are just good people. They just want to work. They just want to provide for their families. We need to help them do that,” Simpson said, adding that he is working with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) to get a vote on immigration this year after the bill failed to get a vote in the Senate last year, even though it has passed twice in the House.
Rep. Simpson said he hoped that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act could serve as a model for bipartisan compromise on immigation reform in other areas of the economy. “I think DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is something that’s got to be fixed. I have a hard time figuring out why anyone would have something against DACA,” the congressman added.
The Idaho Farm Bureau, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and Owyhee Produce CEO Shay Myers, who is the largest asparagus producer in the U.S., and many others both inside and outside the agriculture industry, participated in the roundtable discussion and agreed that the long-time labor shortages require immigration solutions to mitigate the crisis for employers, while also providing opportunities to immigrant worker families to earn a more stable status.
The following are key quotes from some of the participants:
Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout said that what is happening in the agriculture industry affects the entire nation. “If you broaden that perspective and look at agriculture as a whole, labor estimates are that half of every farmworker in this country, half of our workforce, whether it’s dairy or other ag industries, is going to be here without status. So half of every meal that we consume is brought to us by the hands of an individual that doesn’t have legal status in this country.”
Owyhee Produce CEO Shay Myers, said, “We don’t have the domestic workforce available in the numbers we need to even harvest our crops… At the end of the day we can’t compete at all if we don’t have the labor that we need, on an annual basis, on a daily basis.” Regarding immigrant workers, Myers added, “I’ve seen the challenges that they face and I can understand them on a human level….I can understand and see their experience secondhand; the challenges that they face trying to live their lives, to feel comfortable in what they are doing and for them to recognize the contribution that they are making to their country — their adopted country – to the businesses they work for and the difference they are trying to make….There is so much common ground (on legislative solutions) and so many things we can agree on.”
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Government Affairs Representative Braden Jenson, echoed other speakers in thanking Rep. Simpson for addressing the critical labor shortages. “A huge thank you to Congressman Simpson. Thank you very much for your leadership on this issue because really and sincerely this is the number one issue that our farmers are talking about. As I listen to our leadership with the ID Farm Bureau as they traveled to all 44 counties in the state, that is exactly the issue that is brought to our attention is the labor needs….Wherever we go these days, there are help wanted signs.”
Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President Alex LeBeau: “It’s vital for the long term success of the companies here in Idaho, but, frankly, it’s foundational to this state because not only do these issues impact employers, but they impact the institutions in the communities that provide support along the way. And we think this issue needs to be dealt with in a responsible way and not just listening to the radical viewpoints on some of these things.”
Joe Clayton, Business Manager of Clayton Tree Farms in Wilder, Idaho and a member of AmericanHort attended the event and said afterwards that he shared the deep concern about the labor shortage. “Speaking for my tree farm and other horticulture businesses, finding enough workers is an ongoing struggle. A common topic of conversation at industry events is hesitancy to expand our businesses given the lack of available labor. I applaud Congressman Simpson for his leadership on behalf of Idaho farmers like me to solve this pressing issue.”
Background on Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR1603):
Rep. Simpson is the author and key sponsor of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that passed the House of Representatives with 30 Republicans and every Democrat in support. This bill calls for streamlining the H-2A visa application process with a 5-year agriculture visa that would eventually allow farm workers to earn lawful permanent status. The bill would do much to alleviate Idaho’s farm worker labor shortage by giving farmers a legal means of tapping into one of the nation’s largest labor pools, undocumented immigrants, who already compose 50 percent of America’s farm workers.
The House has passed the proposal twice. However, Senate Republicans have refused to consider the bill, citing border issues as needing to be resolved before legislation for immigration visas is considered.
Some of the additional participating organizations at the forum included: Idaho Wool Growers Association, Idaho Onion Growers Association, Idaho Food Producers, Idaho Building Contractors Association, Idaho Mining Association, Gem Ag Professionals, Clayton Tree Farms, Western Range Association, Amalgamated Sugar, JR Simplot Co., Henggeler Packing Company, Inc.
The American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) promotes common sense immigration reform that advances economic competitiveness, provides companies with both the high-skilled and low-skilled talent they need, and allows the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens.