WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2014 – Days after Republicans claimed the majority in the Senate and strengthened their majority in the House, President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, weighed in on prospects for immigration reform.
Obama said he is prepared to follow through with plans for executive action, but Boehner said such action could be harmful to the process.
“If (lawmakers) want to get a bill done, whether it’s in the lame duck or next year, I’m eager to see what they have to offer,” Obama said during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday. “But what I’m not going to do is just wait . . . in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.”
Obama said he would be willing to withhold any executive action on immigration so long as Congress takes legislative action in an appropriate amount of time.
“I think that the best way if folks are serious about getting immigration reform done is going ahead and passing a bill and getting it to my desk, and then the executive actions that I take go away. They’re superseded by the law that is passed,” Obama said. “What we can’t do is just keep on waiting. There’s a cost to waiting.”
In a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, Boehner cautioned the president against executive action on immigration. He said “there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress” if Obama follows through on his executive actions.
“If the president continues to act on his own, he is going to poison the well,” Boehner said. “When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself, and he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
Agriculturally speaking, immigration reform is important because “we can either import our labor or import our food,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told reporters on Tuesday.
“We need a legal workforce to do the hard work on farms that most Americans won’t do,” Stallman said. “Hopefully, we’ll get another chance at this with a new Congress . . . Whether it will be easier or not, I don’t know.”
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives has also been a key agricultural player in the call for immigration reform, serving as a founding member of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, a grouping of almost 70 organizations concerned about the future of farm labor.
“Farmers and ranchers have long experienced difficulty in obtaining workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields,” a position paper on the NCFC website says. “Jobs in agriculture are physically demanding, conducted in all seasons and are often transitory. To most U.S. residents seeking employment, these conditions are not attractive. Yet, for many prospective workers from other countries, these jobs present real economic opportunities.”
NCFC says farmers employ more than one million hired workers each year, making immigration reform a critical issue to their members.
“Reforms to the immigration system can assure that American agriculture has a legal, stable supply of workers, both in the short- and long-term for all types of agriculture,” the position paper says.
Boehner said the “flood of kids coming to the border” held up the process of immigration reform this summer. He said that changed the view of immigration held by Americans of all political affiliations. When asked why he thinks immigration reform is possible now when it has been so challenging throughout the 113th Congress, Boehner said he had issues with members on both sides of the aisle,” but hope springs eternal.”
“I’ve made my position very clear: it is time for the Congress of the United States to deal with a very difficult issue in our society,” Boehner said. “This immigration issue has become a political football over the last 10 years or more. It’s just time to deal with it.”
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