Emotion Clouding Immigration Debate

According to national farm leaders, emotion is negatively influencing debates on immigration and farm labor.

Over the past year, immigration debates have taken center stage in the United States. Inspired by Arizona’s 2010 immigration bill, a number of Southern and Midwestern states either have passed or debated similar bills. In Georgia and Alabama, for example, the legislature passed new immigration laws that would require all employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of employees. In addition, state police were empowered to verify the immigration status of individuals they stopped.

These bills have provoked widespread protest and, more importantly, have driven away farm labor in states where they have passed. Last year, Georgia and Alabama suffered millions of dollars in lost revenue due to critical shortages of available immigrant farm labor.

Over the past year, farm leaders have pressured Washington to reform current immigrant labor policies to allow them to recruit enough manpower to keep farms running.

Recently, Howard Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett and manager of several research farms in Arizona, Illinois, and South Africa, addressed the Southwestern Agriculture Summit, arguing that emotion is negatively affecting the immigration debate.

In particular, he noted that debates over changing current work visa policies are often derailed by accusations of amnesty. “There are commentators that immediately … go to amnesty. Nobody’s talking about amnesty,” Buffett said. “But if you inject amnesty into the discussion, all of a sudden it polarizes the debate. It separates people and people take positions on it and the emotion goes up.”

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer