Editor’s note: Last week, President Obama announced that he would limit deportation proceedings against certain young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. prior to turning 16 and have no criminal background.

The following is a PorkNetwork exclusive Q&A with Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair, Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, about the announcement.

Obama immigration plan: More is neededQ: Is President Obama’s immigration announcement good policy?

A: Political motivations aside, it’s hard for anyone other than the most hard-line anti-immigrant people in our society not to struggle with what to do about young undocumented immigrants who have their whole life potential ahead of them…or not.  Many of them have little or no recollection of their country of birth. 

The original DREAM Act, which sought to address the issue, was a bipartisan legislative proposal with strong backing of Utah’s senior Senator Orrin Hatch among the Republican champions.  But that initiative was stalled at the end of 2008.

Q:  Will the announcement lead to permanent U.S. immigration reform?

A: What the President has done is more of a stopgap measure than a real solution.  A real solution will take an act of Congress.  Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R. Fla., recent efforts being the exception, there’s little evidence of real bipartisan commitment in Congress to resolve the fate of these young people, or agricultural workers whose labor sustains whole industries. 

Q: How many agriculture workers will the announcement affect?

A: I have not yet seen any good estimate of how many undocumented agricultural workers may fall into the covered class under this recent action.  Certainly, there will be some.  For anyone who qualifies, and is already in deportation proceedings, it’s a no-brainer to pursue the possibility of “deferred departure,” the chance to remain here two years with authorization to work. 

The trickier question is, should someone out of status come forward and admit their legal status?  There will be risks. Often, such policies are unevenly implemented. Will the courts intervene?  Will a change in administration result in a change in policy?

If I were a currently-employed farm worker with false papers who might qualify, I think I’d be cautious for now.

Q: Will the announcement increase illegal immigration?

A: It may be a factor, but a small one.  Other factors which may limit illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America include the anemic U.S. economy, the deteriorating security situation in Mexican border regions, and enhanced enforcement. 

Market forces, though, have had a greater impact on peoples’ decisions to come, or stay, or return, than any other factor.  Mexican migration is now said to be “net-zero” and it is worth noting that Mexico’s fertility rate has dropped to 2.2, just a fraction above the U.S. rate. It was just announced that there are more Asians immigrating to the U.S. than Hispanics. 

Q:  Will other initiatives for immigration reform benefit agriculture?

A: There are only two other strongly relevant aspects of immigration reform right now.  One is the need to modify our policies to allow more educated immigrants to live here and innovate here and contribute to the high end of our economy.  The other is the need for agricultural workers. 

There is no clear path to achieving either right now given the level of dysfunction in U.S. politics. But for agriculture, the nation would benefit from some way for experienced workers to enter into a legal working status. 

Better legal paths for future workers on a temporary basis are part of the answer.  The realization in the United States is growing that we need something other than the flawed H-2A structure, such as more modern, flexible, and market-based  immigration reform.