Survey shows political support for a guest worker program

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 -Even though the odds of passing some type of immigration reform legislation before the November elections seem highly unlikely, a new survey of voters indicates that there is strong public support for allowing immigrant farm workers to legally work in the United States. A Tarrance Group survey commissioned by Western Growers found that 70% of likely voters said they would support a guest worker program that included strong regulatory elements. The guest worker program cited in the survey would require that:

·         Job offers are first made to U.S. workers

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·         Restrictions are placed on entry points and length of stay

·         Market-based limitations would apply to visas awarded

·         Foreign guest workers would have both Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their pay.

·         Foreign guest workers could stay for up to 12 months with an option to renew for up to 12 months.

·         Farm employers would be subject to federal oversight to ensure they follow strict rules.

·         The program also allows existing workers to participate in the program without receiving amnesty.

Sixty-four percent of voters said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported this type of a guest worker program, including 71% of Republicans and 70% of those identified as “Strong Tea Party” supporters. However, a majority of survey respondents opposed allowing guest workers to bring spouses/children with them and allowing existing farm workers who are in the U.S. illegally to stay and continue doing farm work.

“It is clear that American voters aren't caught up in the harsh rhetoric claiming immigration reform should be about punishing hard working farm workers or leaving American family farmers without a work force,” Tom Nassif, Western Growers president & CEO, said in a statement released with the survey. “Americans know that we need a practical and well-regulated national program that allows immigrants to come out of the shadows to work here on our farms.”

Last fall, Western Growers surveyed those members in California and Arizona who grow, ship, pack and handle half of the nation's fresh produce to try and measure the extent of the farm labor shortages. Almost two-thirds, representing all sizes of farming operations, said they are experiencing challenges in securing an adequate number of laborers. Compounding their challenge is the issue of documentation. According to industry estimates, approximately 75% of the labor intensive workforce in agriculture is falsely documented, so employers are in constant jeopardy of losing a significant percentage of their workforce due to expanded workplace enforcement efforts by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

President Barack Obama pledged to champion comprehensive immigration reform during his 2008 campaign, but acknowledged during a recent press conference that, “We didn't get it done. And the reason we haven't gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up becoming a partisan issue.” The president said that, after this election, he hoped the Latino community will have sent a strong message that they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform” that involves tough border security, strong worker documenation and a path for children of undocumented workers to “be a fuller part of our community.”


Original story printed in March 28, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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