Local News

State Farmers Say They Support U.S. Immigration Reform

Posted May 31, 2007 7:38 p.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2007 1:37 p.m. EDT

— An immigration reform initiative currently being discussed in the United States Senate isn't perfect, but it is needed to keep the agriculture industry afloat, North Carolina farmers said Thursday.

Without it, they said, farmers could lose $260 million a year.

Leaders with the North Carolina State Farm Bureau say they believe it will streamline the process of immigrants getting temporary work visas.

"This bill, as in any piece of legislation, is not perfect, but it's the only game in town," Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said during a news conference to announce the launch of a campaign in support of the comprehensive reform legislation.

"And if we fail to move this forward, it could be years before we ever have this sensible discussion again," he said.

In part, the bill would give temporary legal status to millions of unlawful immigrants, provided they came forward, paid a fine and undergo criminal background checks. To apply for a green card, they would have to pay another fine, learn English, return to their home country and wait in line.

The plan also would create a guest worker program. It would allow foreign laborers to come to the U.S. for temporary stints, yet with no guarantee they can eventually gain citizenship.

Farmers say the current system is tedious and costly. As a result, they cannot always get the help they need in timely manner.

"There is not a person that I know of that needs a good fresh-cut Christmas tree on December 26th," said Christmas tree grower Pat Gaskin.

The Bureau says fear and misinformation have fueled opponents of the bill, some who are concerned the U.S. is not going to be able to handle an influx of immigrants.

"The biggest thing that people are afraid of -- they think this bill is amnesty, that 12 million people, overnight, are going to be legal residents," Wooten said. "And nothing could be further from the truth."