IRVINE, Calif. -- Western Growers officials today hailed the passage by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee of a comprehensive immigration reform measure, which includes a guest worker program for agriculture workers. The legislation will be sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

The guest worker provision would provide a five-year program to permit as many as 1.5 million workers to work in the fresh produce industry and other sectors of American agriculture. The provision came in the form of an amendment offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which was approved by the committee on an 11-5 vote. The amendment became part of a bill which gained final approval by the committee after a day-long debate on Capitol Hill.

"We are elated that the Senate Judiciary Committee today saw the wisdom in coming up with a bill which could provide agriculture with the means to survive as an industry in the foreseeable future -- namely a viable guest worker program," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. "A historic coalition of business leaders, farm worker advocates, growers, legislators and concerned citizens has worked mightily for many years to attain this goal.

"Today was a landmark day for everyone in our industry. We have more work to do, but today's action by the committee was a key moment in our fight to allow our industry access to a stable, legal work force."

The agriculture guest worker program was one of several amendments debated during the day-long committee deliberations. Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had made it known that he was determined to have the committee vote on an immigration reform bill today. Committee members cast the vote after a full day of emotional debate. Committee members referred to the deliberations as "historic" throughout the hearing.

"It took a great deal of political courage for the members of this committee to come up with a bill on immigration reform," Nassif said. "We thank Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Larry Craig for being our champions. Senator Specter demonstrated great leadership in bringing the comprehensive bill to a vote. We also thank Senator Feinstein for her outstanding leadership and key role in putting forth this vital provision for our industry. In addition, we would like to thank Senator Edward Kennedy and all the supporters of our industry on the Judiciary Committee.

"We appeal to all of our legislators to now show the same kind of courage to do what needs to be done: fix our broken immigration policy and come up with an immigration reform package that our nation can be proud of."

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship ninety percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and seventy five percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation's fresh produce.

Source: Western Growers via PR Newswire.