WASHINGTON, June 14, 2013 – The agriculture industry could force conservative lawmakers to vote for immigration reform, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said yesterday at a Bipartisan Policy Center event.

When asked how lawmakers representing increasing white, Republican districts would stomach immigration reform, Barbour pointed that “those districts are largely rural, and their businesses have an overwhelming dependency on agribusiness.”

Barbour used his own state as an example. Mississippi is home to a large, $2.5 billion poultry industry, and one would be hard-pressed to “find someone on the floor” of a factory “who speaks English,” he said.

“[Immigrants] are all here to work – they’re willing to do nasty work,” Barbour pointed out. Even Mississippi’s local prisoners, who Barbour said are sometimes permitted to work in their communities, balk at “coming home covered in blood, and guts, and veins, and feet and feathers,” as immigrant workers currently do.

So there are “huge constituencies that are dependent on this (immigrant) labor.” Barbour says powerful agriculture industries, like the poultry sector, could force the hands of conservative politicians otherwise unwilling to clear a path to citizenship.

Both Barbour and his fellow panelist, former Governor Jeb Bush, pushed Republicans to take advantage of the current pro-reform climate.

The U.S. immigration “will continue to get worse,” Barbour said, but there is an “appetite” for solving the thorny issue now.

Reforming the immigration system would be an “(investment) in our own country,” Bush said. “This is an opportunity to fix it.”


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