Farmers in Washington State are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for immigration reform and their desire to see major changes to the guest worker program.
For the past few years, immigration reform has been a hot button political issue across the United States. In 2010, Arizona passed a tough new immigration law that significantly enhanced the power of law enforcement officials to verify immigration status and required that employers use the federal E-Verify system to weed out undocumented workers.
Over the next few years, several other states followed suit. The tough immigration laws passed in places like Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia have reduced the flow of undocumented workers, but at a significant cost to the farm sector, which has seen a sharp decline in available farm labor.
The need for farm labor is particularly pressing in Washington, which, outside of California, grows the greatest quantity of labor-intensive crops in the country.
According to Washington farmers, security concerns post-9/11 combined with the increasing hostility to undocumented workers has made it increasingly difficult to obtain much needed farm labor, and the federal guest worker program, designed in part to offer farmers access to labor while still controlling immigration, is failing to meet these needs. The program is bureaucratic and costly, some farmers say. The federal program requires attendance monitoring, for example, something few farmers regularly do. In addition, the housing and transportation requirements can be difficult to meet, some farmers claim.
Many American farmers hope that, in addition to the farm bill, immigration reform can be tackled in the upcoming lame duck congressional session.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer