The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Chambliss explains his vote against immigration bill

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Thursday that he voted against the immigration bill because he had been unable to offer amendments that would have made changes to the farm worker section of the bill.

Chambliss had earlier worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on an AgJobs bill, but was not part of the group of senators led by Feinstein who forged agreement with farm employers known as the Ag Workforce Coalition and the United Farm Workers on the provision. In a floor speech, he praised senators for developing the provision, but said he had problems with several elements.

Chambliss said in a statement that he hopes the House will address his concerns.

Western and southern growers have frequently been at odds over immigration legislation, and Chambliss’s views may be seen as representative of issues that southern legislators may raise as the immigration debate continues.

Noting that Georgia is among the biggest users of the H2A visa program for farm workers, Chambliss said he believes the provision to grant farm workers a path to legal status if they have worked 100 days in agriculture between 2010 and 2012 and then work another five years is too generous compared with other immigrant workers who would have to work for 10 years.

Chambliss’s amendment would have required recipients of blue cards to work longer and pay more for the cards. He said he is worried that the current rules will mean that in the short run “we will end up with more agriculture workers than we need,” but that later the workers will move on to other jobs and the farm labor situation will be unstable.

Chambliss also proposed collapsing the six wage categories in the program to two — one for skilled, the other for unskilled — on the grounds that too many categories will mean farm owners having to spend too much time on record keeping.

He also wanted binding dispute resolution between workers and farm employers, other provisions involving legal disputes, changes to allocation of visas throughout the year and an extension of the H2A program for three years instead of one year.