WASHINGTON, April 8, 2013 – “Immigration” appears to be the issue of the week, and as Congress prepares to present its reform plans to the public, even Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is getting into the act.

“Either we’re going to import workers or we’re going to import food,” Secretary Vilsack warned members of the North American Agriculture Journalists during a lunch Monday. “If we don’t have a comprehensive immigration package passed by Congress, we risk workers migrating to other countries.”

Vilsack said USDA would be ready and willing to participate in an immigration reform plan, and pointed out that the department’s numerous field offices could make ideal “headquarters” for local oversight efforts.

“We’re a can-do department,” Vilsack said. “You give us a problem and we address it.”

Vilsack’s remarks come amidst rumors that a bipartisan group of senators has crafted a plan that would allow illegal farmworkers a speedier pathway to citizenship. According to the Wall Street Journal, the plan would allow agriculture workers to earn a green card in three years – faster than any other unauthorized immigrants.

“For farmworkers to qualify, they first have to prove they’ve worked in agriculture for at least two years,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “If they work another three years in the industry – and at least 150 days each of those years – they can qualify for a green card.”

Experts estimate that of the 1.1 million farmworkers active in the United States today, 500,000 to 700,000 arrived here illegally.

Vilsack’s remarks also touched upon rural out-migration and climate change – problems that, together with immigration, form the triumvirate of “issues we need to talk about more fully in agriculture and rural America.”

“We need to convince young people that are extraordinary opportunities in rural America,” Vilsack said, echoing a number of fiercely pro-rural speeches he has given since late 2012.


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