Political torpedoes be damned, Sen. Larry Craig is moving full steam ahead to reform U.S. immigration law in a way that will account for the needs of agricultural employers.

Craig, R-Idaho, has taken on critics in his home state of Idaho and prodded Republican leaders in the Senate and the White House to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform.

With eight years of working for immigration reform, Craig has been the key conservative voice in support of the bipartisan Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (informally called AgJobs).

Liberal support for AgJobs from Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., illustrates the ideological span of the legislation’s backers.

“He has been dedicated to trying to get something done for the agricultural industry, and he is not flustered at all by the anti-immigration rhetoric,” said Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, Washington, D.C. “He has been the go-to guy.”

Hughes said that while others in Congress have been “running scared” on the immigration issue, Craig has defeated what she claims is anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Craig was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1990 and was re-elected in 1996 and 2002.

Craig said although his opponents grab headlines, he is committed to a resolution of the problem.

“Any of us who enter into the immigration debate need to be forewarned that immigration has a lot of critics,” Craig acknowledged Feb. 7.

In fact, the Minuteman Project, Huntington Beach, Calif., organized a rally in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 8. The founder of the group, Jim Gilchrist, called the agricultural guest worker program “tantamount to slave trading” in a Feb. 2 news release.

Despite the vocal opposition, Craig believes the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up an immigration bill by early May.

“It’s not a question of ‘Do we need to change the law and make it work?’ but ‘We are going to change the law because it doesn’t work,” he said.

Success in immigration policy will be in the form of a three-legged stool, he said. One leg is border enforcement and access, while the second leg is interior control and the third leg is a legal process that will allow guest workers to perform needed jobs in the U.S.

“Do we get there in the end, or do the Tancredos need to demagogue this issue for another year? I don’t know,” Craig said Feb. 7.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., has one of the loudest voices against guest worker provisions in immigration reform and spoke at the Feb. 8 Minuteman Rally.

In a Feb. 1 release, Tancredo said Congress passed a blanket amnesty in 1986 on the promise that border security would come later. “We all remember the ’86 bait and switch, and we won’t be fooled again,” he said. Tancredo said there is no way to determine if guest workers are needed until the borders are sealed and the government controls the interior.

The Packer