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Sound immigration reform is essential

by By MIKE CRAPO
| April 11, 2021 1:00 AM

Throughout my time in Congress, I have consistently maintained there is a real need for a rational immigration policy built on several important principles. I have weighed past immigration reform legislation against these principles, and have voted against immigration reform efforts that do not meet them. I continue to use them as a guide for consideration of current immigration reform proposals:

First, the United States must commit the resources necessary to have the strongest border enforcement realistically possible. Preservation of the integrity of our borders is essential to immigration policy as well as our national security.

Second, our immigration system must not grant amnesty to those who enter our country illegally or illegally overstay their visas. No person who breaks the law should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct. This is unfair both to American citizens and to those who have gone through legal channels for immigration to the U.S.

Third, non-citizens must not be afforded the same means-tested, federal benefits available to U.S. citizens. Federal public benefit programs exist as a manifestation of the American aspiration to take care of our own less fortunate. In today’s fiscal climate, the solvency of these programs is ill-fated at best, making it nothing less than irresponsible to exacerbate these programs’ financial constraints by extending eligibility to individuals who are not U.S. citizens.

Fourth, our immigration system must assure that American citizens have the first right to access available jobs. There is significant debate about whether American citizens are losing U.S. jobs to workers from other countries. However, this debate can be resolved by assuring that any jobs made available in a legal guest worker program are first available to U.S. workers. Manageable ways to assure this have already been identified.

Fifth, an efficient and workable guest worker program must be developed that will provide employers with a reliable, verifiable and legal system to identify guest workers who are legally in the country.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act last week, which is not related to the current border crisis. Nevertheless, action on this legislation has understandably made its way into current broader discussions about border security and immigration reform. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act aims to provide needed improvements to the agriculture-labor component of our nation’s immigration system to provide a more reliable supply of labor to our nation’s agriculture producers and an improved process for immigrants seeking to work in American agriculture.

As a country, we ask a lot of America’s farmers and ranchers. We count on them for a stable and high-quality food supply, and we expect them to keep delivering more to feed our growing world while facing increasing input costs and rising pressures on the land and water it takes to produce the food we eat.

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic of this past year and an ongoing farm labor crisis, Idaho agriculture has kept supplying the food and goods needed across our state, country and world. Idaho’s 24,000 farms and ranches produce 185 commodities, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. And, together, the ISDA reports, agriculture and food processing generate 28 percent of Idaho’s total economic output in sales and 13 percent of its gross domestic product. In fact, Idaho ranks number 5 among all 50 states when it comes to the share of agriculture’s contribution as a percentage of a state’s economic output. Unfortunately, this economic engine is under threat as producers have struggled with a lack of available workers and seasonal labor rates that have increased by 25 percent in the past three years due to a flawed federal system. Producers have shared experiences of having no domestic workers apply for openings, even during the height of last year’s unemployment spike.

We must deal with the insufficiencies of the existing agriculture guest worker program intended to help with labor shortages. This includes addressing the year-round needs of Idaho’s dairy operations. I have committed to working to produce a Senate solution to bring certainty to hard-working producers and farmworkers who have sustained the nation long before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. As I work on these efforts, I will not support granting those who enter the country illegally any advantage of obtaining a green card, permanent status or citizenship over those who followed the law. Immigration reforms are long past due, and I look forward to the work ahead to fix this part of our broken immigration system for the betterment of Idaho agriculture and the Idahoans and other consumers who rely on its resiliency.

Mike Crapo is a U.S. Senator who represents Idaho in Congress.