July 8, 2013

Farmers worry about fate of immigration bills

By John Flesher / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Patrick McGuire of Atwood, Mich., examines sweet cherries growing in his orchard recently. McGuire says a labor shortage caused by the immigration controversy is making it difficult for him and other Michigan fruit growers to harvest their crops.

AP

The industry insists its chronic labor shortage isn't a matter of low pay, but too few Americans willing to deal with the long hours, hot weather and other hardships of farm labor.

"The truth is, not even farm workers are raising their children to be farm workers," Nassif said.

The Senate bill would enable experienced farm workers to obtain "blue cards" making them eligible for year-round residency. Applicants who entered the U.S. illegally would have to pay a fine, catch up on taxes and pass a background check. Another new program would allow farmers to hire foreign "guest workers" who would be issued three-year visas.

But such policies might be a hard sell with House conservatives who deride the idea as "amnesty."

Rep. Justin Amash, whose western Michigan district includes the city of Grand Rapids and outlying farm country, is typical of Republicans feeling pressure from both sides.

Home-state farmers visited his Washington, D.C., office twice last week. Mark Youngquist, an apple grower from Amash's district, later gave one of his aides an orchard tour. During a town-hall meeting the same day, the second-term Republican described the farm labor shortage as "a problem we should deal with" and called for compromise on immigration.

But Amash's comment that deportation wasn't a realistic way to deal with all 11 million people believed to be in the country illegally drew angry shouts. "They're criminals," one man protested.

Youngquist, 53, another staunch Republican, said he wished his fellow conservatives were more sympathetic toward immigrants who fill jobs that no one else will take. The more intense border enforcement appears to be taking its toll, he said. His migrant labor housing that is usually half-full for the approaching apple harvest is now "at zero," he said. "We're sitting on a beautiful crop of apples. Unless things change, none of it is going to get picked."

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