The relentless stream of divisive rhetoric around immigration and the southern border has long stymied comprehensive reform as Democrats and Republicans alike took political advantage of a broken system.
The latest flashpoint is the end of Title 42, a Trump-era border control measure that upended asylum seekers’ legal rights under the guise of protecting public health during the pandemic. The case is currently stalled in court, but some US senators are seeking to extend the order until 2025.
This would be unacceptable and counterproductive.
Instead of quickly deporting migrants and interfering with the legal process intended to protect those fleeing persecution, Congress should focus on solutions that not only address the factors that drive people to cross the border illegally , but also recognize and meet the labor needs of the United States.
One such sensible option is the Agricultural Workforce Modernization Act. This is the kind of lucid and practical legislation that deserves our attention.
Proposed by U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the legislation passed the House in 2021 with bipartisan support, but has so far stalled in the Senate.
The law would give certain immigrant workers without legal permission to be in the United States a pathway to legal status and streamline the visa application process to facilitate legal entry for foreign workers. It would also require employers to verify a worker’s identity and employment authorization.
Immigrants make up more than 70% of American agricultural workers.
“Most farmers would agree that the number one problem they face is lack of labour. Crops don’t harvest themselves,” Newhouse, the state’s former director of agriculture, said in a news release. “This legislation would ensure a legal and reliable workforce for all of agriculture.”
Besides the impact on agricultural labor and the country’s food supply, labor shortages are a contributing factor to widespread inflation, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, which has called for an increase in legal immigration to help solve the problem.
Over the past nine months, the number of unfilled non-farm payrolls has consistently exceeded 10 million. Data from March shows that there are more than 11 million vacancies in the US labor market.
“We hear every day from businesses saying that labor shortages are their biggest challenge, and this is impacting the country’s ability to mitigate supply chain disruptions, rein in inflation and continue our economic recovery,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer.
Solutions proposed by the House include permanent legal protections for immigrants who now have Temporary Protected Status, agricultural workers and young immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents, known as Dreamers.
It’s not just big companies that are looking for cheap labour. Polls have consistently shown that most Americans support legal immigration, but elected officials have just as consistently failed to enact comprehensive reform.
Political realities ensure that won’t change anytime soon, but the House’s bipartisan support for the Farm Labor Modernization Act shows that modest steps are possible.
This legislation is just one small piece of the larger immigration puzzle, but its positive impact on the lives of immigrants and the U.S. economy should prompt the Senate to ensure it falls into place.