Immigration reform will help state’s farm economy
Recently, the U.S. Senate passed
common-sense immigration reform. This bipartisan effort is an important step in reforming America’s broken immigration policy. At the same time, the bill addresses a serious concern not only in New Hampshire but across much of the United States: the lack of a stable workforce.
The Senate bill would take much-needed steps to ensure a stable agricultural workforce, while promoting a fair system for American producers and American farm workers. At the same time, it will put in place the toughest border security plan that America has ever seen – building on those steps taken recently that have reduced illegal border crossings to their lowest level in decades.
A new temporary worker program in the Senate bill would replace the current H-2A visa program over time and allow farm workers a three-year visa to work year-round in any agricultural job. It would give these qualified farm workers an expedited path to earned citizenship, as long as they continue to work in agriculture.
Workers currently in New Hampshire without authorization will be required to go to the back of the line, pay appropriate fines and settle taxes they owe our nation.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit over the next 20 years by nearly $850 billion. The Social Security Administration estimates that this immigration bill would add nearly $300 billion dollars to the Social Security system in the next decade.
Equally important for New Hampshire’s economy is to prevent the potential loss in economic benefit that we face without common-sense immigration reform.
The White House economic team recently released a report highlighting the positive economic benefits that common-sense immigration reform would provide for agriculture and rural communities. Without a reliable, stable workforce, America’s record agricultural productivity will decline in coming years.
In New Hampshire the report estimated that by eliminating the immigrant labor force, New Hampshire could lose between $11 million and $19 million in short-term production. Across New England we could see losses of between $119 million and $212 million.
Under the Senate proposal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would play a greater role implementing farm labor programs and ensuring that New Hampshire’s farmers have all the information and support they need. As Congress continues to work on this issue, Secretary Tom Vilsack and all of USDA are committed to working with lawmakers to be sure they have any technical assistance they might need to finalize these proposals.
Immigration reform is important for our farmers, farm workers and communities in rural New Hampshire and across America. To remain competitive and keep driving economic growth in rural America, America need rules that work. Congress needs to act as soon as possible to carry forward the work of the Senate and fix today’s broken immigration system.
This sensible reform won’t just prevent a decline in production – it will grow our economy and grow New Hampshire agriculture, already well over a billion dollar industry.
(Jay Phinizy is state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Concord.)