WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2015 - Republican presidential candidates need to get beyond a “meat cleaver” approach to immigration policy and ensure that farms and food processors have an adequate supply of labor, says House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway.
“What I hear Donald Trump saying is that he wants to round them all up and send them home. I don’t know that that’s the best first answer,” Conaway said, referring to Trump's call for mass deportations.
Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters that a more “rational approach” to the issue would include ensuring an adequate guest worker program and offering legal status to immigrants now in the country after they pay the “appropriate fines and penalties for having broken the law.”
Trump, the GOP frontrunner, also has called for building a wall along the entire U.S-Mexico border and requiring all employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure that their workers can legally work. Farm groups strongly oppose making E-Verify mandatory unless they are allowed to import more foreign workers legally.
Conaway said of the campaign rhetoric, “Right now it’s just kind of slashing around with a meat cleaver and not a lot of detail on what all of us would like to see, and that is if you’re in this country legally you can work. If you’re here illegally you can’t work and you can’t be here.”
Conaway said he expects a “more nuanced” approach to the issue to emerge as the campaign continues and the field is winnowed down.
He noted that a Texas A&M study for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) released this week showed that milk producers are becoming increasingly dependent on immigrant workers, who now account for more than half the labor on dairy farms.
Conaway said there is a risk that Republican campaign rhetoric could drive away Hispanic voters though he hasn’t seen any evidence of that yet in his West Texas district. He warned Republican candidates against using the “kind of insulting terms that cause them (Hispanic voters) to rally to the heritage and not to the rule of law.”
Trump has singled out Mexico in many of his attacks on the immigration issue to the point of accusing the Mexican government of sending criminals across the border.
A conservative Hispanic group sponsored by the Koch brothers, The LIBRE initiative, released a letter warning Republicans against calling for mass deportations and ending birthright citizenship.
Enforcement efforts "should not unduly intrude on the lives of law-abiding Americans, or impose an unwarranted cost on the taxpayers," said the letter, reported on by NPR.
Conaway has not endorsed a candidate but didn’t rule out supporting Trump. “I’m going to support the Republican nominee, whoever he or she may be.”
Some House conservatives say Republican leaders should pay attention to Trump's message on immigration and other issues because it has captivated Republican voters.
“People are sick and tired of politicians of both parties just listening to the donor class,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said on a panel of House conservatives this week.