IN a speech chastising House Republicans for not moving any proposal on immigration reform, President Barack Obama said he's beginning a new effort to fix as much of the U.S. immigration system as he can on his own, without Congress.
The comments came one year from the day the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform.
For agriculture, the inaction has been disappointing.
Chuck Conner, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the House is squandering the best opportunity in a generation to fix a problem of critical importance to agriculture.
Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), voiced frustration that partisan politics couldn't be put aside to address the current dysfunctional immigration system.
"The irony is that virtually everyone on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue admits the status quo is unacceptable, yet we seem destined to continue suffering from it because commonsense reforms remain beyond our reach," he said.
Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and CEO, added, "The House leadership's refusal thus far to allow a vote on an immigration bill puts all U.S. industries, especially agriculture, in a desperate situation."
Conner warned that executive action will only freeze in place the current dysfunctional state of affairs.
"Farmers will continue to be unable to find the workers they need to pick crops or care for livestock, more food production will go overseas, local economies across the country will suffer and the American consumer will ultimately pay more for the food they eat," he said.
Agriculture needs a legal, skilled and dependable workforce. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) repeatedly has said Republicans need to help fix the problem.
Even Obama conceded that he believes Boehner's stated desire to pass an immigration bill and said he's not giving up on working with House Republicans to deliver a more permanent solution.
"If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills," Obama said. "Pass a bill; solve a problem. Don't just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done, because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I've done administratively. We'll have a structure there that works, and it will be permanent. (Then) people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law."
For agriculture, it's a matter of continuing to push for the right solution, or at least a feasible solution for the time being.
United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel said if the House continues to disregard its responsibility to address this issue, "the produce industry has no choice but to work with the Administration on short-term administrative patches that will be appreciated but are ultimately unsatisfactory."
Mulhern said NMPF would look for ways to obtain year-round workers under the current agricultural visa system, which now applies only to seasonal workers.
The Wall Street Journal reported that NMPF could try to alleviate farmers' worries about government raids and deportations by urging administrative action. The question is whether that will fuel further criticism for not deporting undocumented immigrants.
Nassif reportedly said there has been no talk yet of an agriculture-only bill, but it's "certainly a possibility."
Mulhern said immigration reform will happen: "The reality is that most major public policy controversies take multiple efforts, by a variety of stakeholders working together in common cause, to finally make things happen."