Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., says if the Farm Workforce Modernization Act can pass through Congress it will help alleviate the stress around other hot political issues.

Speaking on this week’s Agri-Pulse Newsmakers, Newhouse discussed the importance of having a secure workforce and how that has a direct effect on food inflation and illegal immigration. 

However, Newhouse stressed that any legislation related to immigration has an uphill battle to passage, pointing to the southern border as an example of why lawmakers are not on board with passing immigration reform.

“It's very difficult for some people to support something that they see as bringing more people” into the country, said Newhouse.

But Newhouse says it will take educating more lawmakers on the benefits of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to get the legislation across the finish line. For farmers, the bill would allow a limited number of H-2A visa holders to work year-around, not just seasonally. The measure also would provide a path to legal status for existing undocumented farmworkers and require farms to start using the E-Verify system to make sure new hires are legally able to work in the United States. 

“The things that we have in this bill will reduce the incentive for people to come across illegally. You know why? Because they won't be able to get a job, they won't be able to earn a living … that's why people want to come because they can’t find work in their home countries,” said Newhouse.

Newhouse also emphasized that the “time is now” to move the legislation across the finish line. 

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“This is our best chance politically to get it done … [in] a new Congress, we're going to bring a whole lot of new faces in or basically have to start all over,” said Newhouse.

On the same show, Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Ag Employers, said it will be difficult to get legislation passed this Congress “because we're just running out of time" with the mid-term elections looming in November. 

Marsh says his organization has been working with Senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on “a more employer-friendly version” of the House-passed legislation, but no draft is available yet. 

Kristi Boswell with Alston & Bird and Craig Regelbrugge with AmericanHort also joined this week’s show to discuss more on the broader picture of ag labor. 

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