PRESIDENT Barack Obama's latest move on immigration issues could affect the delicate balance. It already has conservatives calling for defunding his actions and could stall future immigration negotiations.
In his national address Nov. 20, Obama first said he will build on border patrol resources and also will make it easier and faster for highly skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay in the country.
His landmark fix allows immigrants to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation, if they: have been in America for more than five years, have children who are American citizens or legal residents and register, pass a criminal background check and pay back taxes.
According to the United Farm Workers union — a major player in the negotiations that advanced agricultural provisions in the Senate's immigration bill — at least 250,000 of America's current professional farm workers will be eligible for deportation relief under Obama's executive action.
Obama said he still wants to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution, and the day he signs that bill into law, his executive actions will no longer be necessary. "Don't let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue," Obama said.
Can that be a reality, though? Now, more than ever, is the time to put partisan politics aside and tackle the tough issue of immigration reform.
Ahead of the President's announcement, the Washington Times released a special section, "Immigration: Conservative & Economic Solutions to Act Now," featuring a wide range of ideas from national conservative and business leaders, who are all calling for Congress to reform the immigration system.
One letter was written by the Agriculture Workforce Solution, a group of 70 organizations representing farmers, growers and agricultural employers that stayed united over the last two years in calling for a solution that deals with the reality of the U.S. agricultural workforce.
Of agriculture's 2 million hired immigrant employees, 60-70% are unauthorized to work, even though they showed employers documents that appear genuine, the group explained.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman added that the U.S. loses millions of dollars in fruit and vegetable production every year because farmers cannot find sufficient labor to harvest everything they grow. Obama's executive order will not change that, he said.
Instead, Congress needs to come together — Republicans in particular — to show that members can find a path forward.
"To meet future agricultural labor needs, the H-2A program remains broken beyond repair, and a new streamlined and market-based visa program is needed," Chuck Conner, chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, recommended. "Both of these goals — certainty for current workers and a working visa program for the future — can only be achieved through congressional action."
Over the next few weeks, the spirit of cooperation and consensus building will likely be in short supply on both sides of the partisan divide.
"A debate over the process used to enact these immigration changes, even when loud and emotion filled, will ultimately be healthy for our democracy," Conner added.
When that debate is over, America's farmers still face an unprecedented labor crisis that needs a solution — and only Congress can do that job.