Immigration reform would benefit Ohio ag, but some see downsides

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Ohio agricultural producers who employ Latino immigrant workers would favor comprehensive immigration reform for several reasons, says an Ohio State University Extension specialist on agricultural labor.

Francisco Espinoza, coordinator of OSU Extension's Agriculture and Horticulture Labor Education Program, said effective reform would afford producers a stable, legal workforce of experienced workers, plus newer workers should their operations expand.

"Replacing the current H2A guest worker program with a more workable, less expensive, less cumbersome visa program would move things in a positive direction for agricultural producers in Ohio," said Espinoza, who is also chairman of the Farmworker Agencies Liaison Communication and Outreach Network (FALCON), a coalition of government agencies and advocacy groups that supports the state's seasonal and migrant farmworkers and agricultural producers.

"Reforming immigration would also address the problem of losing a producer's workforce when they are found to be undocumented, as this is a costly experience in both profitability and legal problems."

On Jan. 28, a bipartisan committee in the U.S. Senate announced plans for comprehensive immigration reform. The following day, President Barack Obama unveiled his vision for new immigration legislation.

Espinoza noted that the American Nursery and Landscape Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack all favor comprehensive immigration reform. The Agricultural Workforce Coalition of nursery and agricultural interests, he said, would like to replace the H2A guest worker program with a system of yearlong work visas.

However, Espinoza said, some agricultural employers see potential downsides to comprehensive immigration reform.

"Nationalizing the E-Verify system claims to discover undocumented individuals in the workforce, but the agricultural community is averse to the bureaucracy of government programs and would also not want the burden of being the enforcers," he said.

"Continued border and immigration enforcement was emphasized as part of any Senate immigration reform plan, but agricultural employers want no part of raids, racial profiling or other interruptions to their operations, seeing them as detrimental to recruiting and maintaining a much-needed workforce."

Espinoza also pointed out that producers still remember the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which provided amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

"The Reagan amnesty resulted in the exit of farmworkers out of agriculture and into mainstream employment, once their adjusted status afforded them the opportunity. A repeat of this would not be a permanent solution (to agriculture's labor needs)."

Migrant and seasonal workers are crucial to many sectors of Ohio's diverse agricultural industry, including vegetable production, dairy farming, nurseries and landscape operations.



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