Farming and Ranching by Jennifer Banks: Proposed immigration reform bill would help agriculture

Controller and financial analyst, Scythe & Spade Co., EagleAugust 20, 2013 

Jennifer Banks

There are 11 million immigrants in the United States waiting for Congress to take action on our immigration system. Business leaders from every industry are urging reform to make it easier to hire and retain foreign workers. And agriculture is especially reliant on immigrant labor.

Of the nearly 1.1 million full-time farmworkers in the U.S., more than 70 percent are foreign-born and more than half lack legal status. In Idaho, noncitizen farmworkers make up nearly 42 percent of the workforce.

Last month the White House issued a report on fixing the immigration system. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed the report's findings, saying that the broken immigration system is making it harder to find farmworkers at a time when net farm income and the demand for American agriculture goods is growing.

The immigration bill passed by the Senate in June would create a system to put foreign-born workers on the path to citizenship. It would create 51,330 jobs, add $6.6 billion to the GDP, and boost personal income by $3.3 billion over the first three years. The pathway to citizenship for those who are currently working in our country without authorization will require them to wait five years, pay fines, settle taxes, and have no felony convictions.

The Senate bill also includes an agriculture-jobs provision. The House bill does not include a path to legalization. They would only be eligible for temporary work visas.

Uncertainty in the labor supply will cause farmers to limit production, and it incentivizes larger farming companies to send crop production outside the country.

There is a fear among many Americans that opening up the job market to more workers will cause higher unemployment, but there is little factual evidence to this point. The studies shown in the White House report indicate that an improved labor force through immigration reform will not only cause businesses to create jobs in the U.S., but labor competition also drives productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction among workers.

Idaho would see approximately 1,615 new jobs in 2014 and economic output would increase by nearly $924 million over the next 30 years. The economic model also estimates that personal income for Idaho families would increase by $176 million in 2020.

There is also a fear that establishing citizenship avenues for immigrants will put a strain on government programs and infrastructure; however, studies show that putting these workers on a path to citizenship will boost the economy and help reduce the deficit.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by almost $850 billion over the next 20 years and add nearly $300 billion to the Social Security system in the next decade.

Foreign workers do not come to America to fail; they come to succeed. Despite recent years of economic uncertainty, the American economy will recover and central to that growth is jobs. We must invest in workers for the long term.

JenniferB@agmanagement.com; 893-5333

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