More than 300 produce and agricultural leaders from 33 states came to Washington, D.C., on March 15, making a case for immigration reform that doesn't leave out farmworkers.

While not producing any instant victories, the visits from produce growers in the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform will be ringing in the ears of the Senate's Judiciary Committee as its members wrestle with immigration reform and provisions for agricultural workers at least through the end of March.

The House passed enforcement-focused immigration legislation, H.R. 4437, last year. Agriculture advocates say the bill could result in the loss of 70% or more of the agricultural work force because it requires status verification before workers can be hired, and most produce workers are undocumented.

The March on the Hill event by the coalition featured visits to about 150 congressional offices on March 15, said Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C. Visits also occurred on the day preceding the rally and later in the week, he said.

"It was wonderful turnout," Guenther said. That high turnout helps to reinforce the importance of agriculture in the immigration debate, he said.

The coalition also held a press conference at the Upper Senate Park on the grounds of Capitol Hill. A news release from the coalition noted that rally attendees staged a farmers market and handed out U.S.-grown produce. The produce was a reminder, the news release said, of what the U.S. could lose if legislation is passed that doesn't provide for the needs of agriculture.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and a Capitol Hill advocate for agriculture-friendly immigration reform, was one of several members of Congress to address the rally.

Craig said Congress "can and must" deal with border security and workplace needs at the same time.

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Source: The Packer Online Extra