Bipartisan Push for Farm Worker Labor Reform Slams Into GOP Border Security Objections

Bipartisan support for farm labor immigration reform ran headlong into GOP complaints at a Senate Judiciary hearing, that the southern border must be secured first.

There was no mistaking the bipartisan desire to fix the decades-old problem that previous legislative efforts have failed to fix—a lack of legal, year-round migrant farm labor under the H-2A program.

But fireworks flew at the Senate Judiciary Committee when former Chairman and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham had this angry exchange with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Do you understand that if you give legal status to one person without first securing the border, you’re going to have a run on the border ten-times worse than you have today?” Vilsack: “No I don’t believe so.” Graham: “You don’t believe that?” Vilsack: “And the reason I don’t is I think the primary reason…” Graham “I just think that’s ludicrous.”

And the fight got nastier when Texas Republican Ted Cruz piled on, “Talk to farmers and ranchers who are dealing with cayotes, crossing their land on a daily basis, trafficking people, trafficking drugs, talk to landowners like one rancher I know, who had his ranch house broke into and ‘MS-13’ painted, spray painted on the walls.”

But usually mild-mannered Judiciary Chairman and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin was unswayed.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to deal with this…and if the premise is that we can’t do anything on immigration until we do everything on immigration, we’ll be right where we’ve been for 36-years—doing nothing.”

Which is where the Senate could be headed after the House in March passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that’s gotten mixed reviews from the American Farm Bureau and others.

Democrats are hoping to include broad immigration reform in President Biden’s social infrastructure bill later this year, but Republicans argue it’s not budget-related and want the Senate Parliamentarian to keep it out—nixing another possible avenue for farm labor reform.