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Conference to focus on guest worker program
As the area's winter vegetable season gets under way, one question is always whether farmers will have sufficient workers to bring their crops to market.
Estimates are that it takes some 45,000 workers at the peak of the season to harvest and process the lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and other vegetables as well citrus grown here throughout the winter for distribution around the U.S. and other countries. While many workers live in the area, thousands cross the international border each morning to work and others are brought into the country temporarily through the H2-A program to work in the fields and coolers.
But those in the agriculture industry say the nation's guest worker program is burdensome, costly and time consuming — a program they've advocated for years is broken and needs to be fixed.
A conference in Yuma this week will look at the problem and what growers need in a temporary worker program.
The conference, A New Front Door, will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Radisson Hotel Yuma, 1501 S. Redondo Center Drive.
The half-day conference is being held by ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of employers working to advance better immigration law that will meet the needs of agriculture and other industries for unskilled workers. Co-sponsors are the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association and Arizona Farm Bureau.
Registration fee is $30. To register, contact Valerie Woodall at email@example.com or 1-202-506-4541.
Encouraged to attend are growers who rely on foreign workers, farm labor contractors, agricultural trade association personnel, state lawmakers, agriculture officials and congressional immigration staffers.
In the big picture, the Bush administration tried in 2006-07 to push broad reforms and failed, Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, said in a telephone interview.
Since then, she said, “It's been frozen tundra in D.C. and totally off limits for five years.”
Recently, though, she said she's seeing some hope for action, at least in small steps and an increasing acknowledgement of the need for guest workers in agriculture and other industries for jobs Americans won't do even if they're paid more.
“Obviously employers should hire Americans first. But if they can't find them, there needs to be a way for obtaining workers legally.”
Jacoby said that over the past six to nine months, “there's been a lot of proposals for small focused fixes to legal immigration by both parties. There's an increasing awareness to start fixing what we can fix and have the process create momentum.”
During Thursday's summit, Jacoby said, she encourages participants to have a healthy debate about the issue and make sure that all voices are heard with their needs and concerns. She also wants to bring awareness of the debate going on in Washington, D.C., and urge local growers and groups to be engaged in the process.
“The system only works if it works for employers, too. They need to be in the debate. We need to fix the pipeline for people coming into this country and not just mop up what the pipeline leaks.”