The White House unveiled an immigration reform proposal last week that would favor highly trained workers over those with family members in the U.S.
But the plan did not address an ongoing crisis – a shortage of farm workers that has hamstrung the agriculture industry.
The American Farm Bureau said the proposal fails to tackle farmers’ struggle to find enough workers for peak seasons.
In a press release, Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall called for any immigration reform plan to include provisions for farmworkers.
“Labor shortages are hitting farmers and ranchers across the country in dairy, fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, livestock, and other Ag sectors,” he said.
A Farm Bureau report in 2014 indicated overall losses from immigration challenges could be as high as $60 billion. Agriculture experts say up to half of all farmworkers in the U.S. are undocumented.
The effects of the shortage have reverberated across the ag industry. According to a survey of California farmers released last month, more than a quarter started mechanizing to make up for lost labor. More than 35 percent said they had adjusted cultivation practices, like reducing or delaying weeding and pruning.
A farmworker advocacy group, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, is pushing for a plan to allow workers who are already in the country to gain legal status and to expand the H-2A visa program from seasonal workers to those who work year-round.
California legislators have proposed a “blue card” plan to allow legal status for undocumented farm workers. The legislation would open a path for farm workers to get green cards.