(Adds Newhouse quote in last two paragraphs.)
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Several House Republicans are ratcheting up pressure on Senate colleagues to take action on bipartisan immigrant farmworker legislation the chamber passed last year.
Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse (Wash.), Jim Baird (Ind.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), and Mike Simpson (Idaho) joined the American Business Immigration Coalition and agriculture groups outside the US Capitol on Tuesday to push the issue as a matter of economic security.
The lawmakers and their allies argued that overhauling the US agricultural guestworker visa program and offering a path to green cards for some farmworkers would help combat inflation and reduce domestic food costs.
The House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1603) in early 2021, and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have been working on a Senate version since then.
“American farmers and ranchers are woefully under-equipped to meet the workforce demands of modern production agriculture,” Baird said.
The House Republicans and others at Tuesday’s event pointed to a new study to buoy their arguments. Inflation decreases as numbers of H-2A visas increase, Texas A&M International University researchers found. The H-2A program is also associated with less unemployment and higher minimum wages, their analysis says.
“This would suggest a stable agricultural workforce is good for the U.S. economy,” the study says. “This would also suggest that any expansion or improvements to this program would be highly desirable leading to certainty and stability in the agricultural workforce.”
The researchers noted, however, that while most data they analyzed support that conclusion, a few data points don’t align. The study was also conducted on a short timeline and could benefit from further statistical analysis, they said.
The analysis relied on macro-level economic indicators, including inflation, average wages, gross domestic product, and the consumer price index for meats, eggs, dairy, and produce. The study was proposed but not funded by the American Business Immigration Coalition.
LaMalfa argued that “naysayers” are trying to derail negotiations by using the “A word” — amnesty — to characterize the legislation. He stressed that it would provide a path to status for farmworkers who’ve labored on American agricultural products for years.
State agricultural advocates also pushed to overhaul the guestworker program Tuesday but outlined key sticking points. Utah Farm Bureau President Ron Gibson said he couldn’t support some provisions in the House-passed legislation — including the bill’s cap on available guestworker visas — and called on the Senate to find a solution.
Bennet on Tuesday said Senate negotiations were continuing.
“With inflation like this and supply chains like this, we should pass this bill and help people reduce their labor costs,” he said in a hallway interview.
Newhouse, who cosponsored the legislation, said he was optimistic the House could move quickly to pass another bill if the Senate passed a different version this year.
“We will make every effort that if there are changes in the Senate that need to be considered by the House that we will absolutely make sure that we consider this before the end of the term,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org