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Produce industry praises Senate for immigration vote, urges House to act

WASHINGTON—The agricultural industry wasted no time hailing the Senate for passing, by a 68-32 vote, an immigration reform bill on June 27, but the focus quickly shifts to the House and a July 10 meeting where the House Republican leadership will carve out next steps for immigration reform.

The “Gang of Eight” Senators spearheaded this bill, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) worked behind the scenes to forge an agreement between the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and the United Farm Workers on the agricultural provisions that producers and farm workers could live with.

For the produce industry, immigration reform has been a number one issue for years and the Senate vote was nothing short of historic.

"This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain and boost the economy,” said Tom Stenzel, chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association. “We appreciate the efforts of our allies in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers with whom we worked to advance provisions that will provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers."

“The hardworking farmers, farm workers and workers from every affected industry deserve a new immigration system from its elected representatives,” said Western Growers CEO and President Tom Nassif, who thanked lawmakers for their leadership in approving S. 744.

United Farm Workers said the bill "fulfills the urgent need for an earned legalization program that enables undocumented farm workers who are the backbone of the nation's agricultural industry to swiftly obtain legal immigration satus," as well as stablize the farm labor workforce by providing incentives for workers to continue jobs in agriculture.

All eyes turn to the House, which is scheduled for a weeklong break in their districts before returning to Capitol Hill for a much-anticipated July 10 meeting with House Republican leadership on the best ways to tackle immigration reform legislation. Chances of considering the Senate-passed bill in the House are slim.

“The Senate’s passage was remarkable in a lot of ways, but it’s just the next step in a journey,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. The House needs 218 votes to pass a bill that can go into conference and work out differences on the agricultural provisions, he said.

“We need to get to conference or we won’t have any bill,” Stuart added.