Entries in legislation (3)


Immigration Reform Could Help Immigrant Farm Workers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The pay for farm jobs is usually low and the work is grueling. That's why no one should be surprised by a study released on Wednesday looking at immigration and agriculture in North Carolina.

The upshot: Almost no U.S.-born workers are taking farm jobs in that state. And even during the recession, native workers weren't more likely to seek employment in agriculture.

That means that growers need an easy-to-use guest worker program that will give them access to immigrant guest workers without too much expense or red tape. That's the recommendation of the report, which was drafted by two pro-immigration reform groups, the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Center for Global Development.

Growers already have a guest-worker program, and there's no cap on the number of workers they can bring in. But the requirements are too strenuous, so businesses opt for undocumented workers, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest grower association in the country.

Of course, you might wonder why farmers won't just be able to keep the immigrant workers they have now.

That's because immigration reform could shake up the industry.

A reform bill being considered in the Senate would offer legal status to undocumented farm workers who are in the country now. They could become legal permanent residents in five to seven years, if they keep working in agriculture during that time.

However, the assumption is that once those workers are able to leave the fields, they will.

So it's not so much that immigrant workers are better fieldhands or more excited about the job (although they might be), it's that working in agriculture is the only choice they have. And once they have another choice, the expectation is that they'll leave.

There's no question -- fieldwork is one of the toughest jobs out there. And giving growers a continuous supply of cheap labor won't necessarily change that.

But immigration reform would improve conditions for workers going forward, if growers really do use the new guest worker program.

The biggest difference for most workers is that they will now be in the country legally. That should help them to advocate for fair wages and working conditions.

Also, future guest workers wouldn't be tied to a single employer. They would need to work in agriculture, but they could move from one employer to another.

Another big change will be the possibility for citizenship. The Senate immigration reform bill would allow future guest workers in agriculture to become legal permanent residents through most of the same pathways available to other immigrants.

It's unclear how much competition there will be for those visas, but it would be better than the current options for temporary farm workers. Right now, there is no way for them to become permanent residents.

So while immigration reform would give growers what they want -- a steady supply of cheap, captive labor -- it should also improve the conditions for workers. And that could transform the dynamics of the industry in the years ahead.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Most Americans Don't Know Much About Immigration Bill

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When it comes to immigration reform, most Americans don’t know much about it, and few think that the Boston bombing should be a factor in the debate.

The issue may be front-and-center in the nation’s capital, but around the rest of the country, when it comes to the immigration reform bill before Congress, it turns out many Americans don’t know much about it, at least according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

“It’s very early, that’s something to remember,” Carroll Doherty, an associate director at Pew, said. “This debate is just really getting underway.”

Four in 10 of those surveyed say they “don’t know” when it comes to their opinion of the immigration bill before the Senate, while 33 percent say they favor the bill and 28 percent oppose it.

The lack of opinion and indifference remains fairly consistent throughout other issues the bill may affect, such as if it will help or hurt the U.S. economy, or make the U.S. more or less safe from terrorism. The majority in both cases believe the bill will “not make much of a difference.”

The Pew survey, a self-proclaimed “independent fact tank,” was conducted the last week of April, two weeks after the Boston marathon bombing. When it was discovered the suspected bombers were immigrants, it became a contentious issue for some Republicans who called for a possible delay on the bill.

But of those surveyed, many do not think the bombings should be a factor in the debate for immigration reform; 58 percent called the two “separate issues.”

What may come as the biggest surprise to those in Washington: barely 20 percent of those surveyed say they are “following the story very closely,” which may explain why less than half know that the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators.

Just 37 percent of those polled know that the legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators -- 9 percent thought a group of Democrats introduced the legislation, while 7 percent believed it was a group of Republicans. The overwhelming majority, 47 percent, did not know who introduced the bill.

“The idea of the Gang of Eight or a bipartisan group...some would think that would get more attention because it goes against prevailing trends in Washington,” Doherty said, while cautioning that the Boston bombing was capturing most of the attention, as well as the gun control legislation.

The fact that the bill lays out a path to citizenship that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the country was also a lesser known fact by those surveyed.

Only 46 percent knew that the bill would allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country while applying for citizenship.

Doherty said that although many of the policies of the bill are not well known yet, other recent Pew surveys that examined issues included in the Senate legislation provide better context for public perception.

“It almost makes sense to look at our other recent surveys on immigration,” he said. “Attitudes about the basic principles at this point are as important as the early attitudes about the legislation.”

A March survey found that 71 percent favored finding a way for people here illegally to stay in the country “if they meet certain requirements.”

That same March survey also saw a huge shift in overall perception of immigrants compared to views in the early 1990s.

According to that survey, “63% viewed immigrants as a burden, but the percentage expressing this view declined substantially by the end of the 1990s (to 38% in September 2000).” Whereas today, “49% agree with the statement 'immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.'"

“The changing views on immigration are as important as the snapshot measurements of the legislation,” Doherty said.

Among the 24 percent who did have a baseline of understanding for the bill, the majority had an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of the legislation (50 percent vs 33 percent).

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Despite Bruising Election, Democrats and GOP Pass Major Legislation

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With time ticking away towards Christmas and a new Congress where Republicans will have much more power, Democrats got two key victories Wednesday on a nuclear disarmament treaty and a bill to provide continuing health care for 9/11 first responders.

The two measures ended a blizzard of legislation -- from extending tax cuts, to repealing "don't ask, don't tell" –- that is unlike any lame duck session before, according to those who watch Congress. More pieces of major legislation passed in the month of December than since March. That's when Democrats passed the landmark health reform bill and all action ground to a halt until the November elections, which crushed Democrats and emboldened Republicans.

The period between an election and a new Congress is called the lame duck, because normally, no meaningful work gets done.

But rather than wait for Republicans to take control of the House, and their majority to shrink in the Senate, Democrats returned to Washington after the midterm elections and, working with a handful of Senate Republicans, passed quite a bit.

The accomplishments have raised the ire of one Republican normally known for working with Democrats.

"I am not proud of this process. I'm not proud of this lame duck. I am not proud of what we've been -- we've been doing as a party, quite frankly, because we've jeopardized the minority standing in future congresses," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who worked with Democrats on immigration and climate change legislation earlier in 2010 before abandoning both proposals. "We're setting precedent in a lame duck that I think is unhealthy for the future of this country."

What is unclear is if the bipartisanship and accomplishments of the lame duck session will do anything to repair Congress's approval rating, which hit a record low this week, according to Gallup. In a new survey, only 13 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. A whopping 83 percent disapprove.

The accomplishments also don't necessarily presage bipartisanship in January, when the Republicans take control of the House leadership. A new Congress will mean an entirely new dynamic.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the top Republican in the Senate, opposed every piece of legislation passed during the lame duck except for the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. He wrote in an op-ed Wednesday that, "a new Congress begins two weeks from today, and if the American people sense that change is coming, they're right."

McConnell, who has said his number one priority will be making sure President Obama loses re-election in 2012, will have six more Republican seats on his side of the aisle come January. He wrote that Republicans will try to make government smaller.

"Some Democrats have responded to the election by reaffirming their belief in government's ability to solve our problems. But many others have acknowledged with their votes on the tax bill that the policies of the last two years have fallen short, and that it's time to move in a different direction. The importance of this shift can't be overstated."

The fact that shift is coming did much to spur the action this December. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio