This is why we keep close watch on Congress. In a bipartisan effort accomplished quickly and virtually under the table, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) — in Senate Appropriations markup of the War Supplemental bill — obtained approval of an amendment that would create an amnesty for illegal alien farm workers. The measure, called the Emergency Agriculture Relief Act, was added to the War Supplemental bill in a 17-12 vote last Thursday.
Known as the AgJob amendment, the Feinstein-Craig measure revived instantaneously the controversy that caused conservatives to lash out at the White House and Congress last summer.
The measure would grant temporary legal status to 1.35 million illegal immigrants and their families currently working in the agricultural field. The legislation was passed out of committee at the request of agribusiness interests who have been insisting that they need illegal aliens to harvest crops and run horse shows. The legislation is nothing less than “comprehensive immigration reform” on a smaller scale.
What supporters of the amendment are calling “emergency” and “temporary”, opponents have labeled an “amnesty visa.” Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) said he considered the amendment amnesty and that “all these immigration issues should be addressed through the regular order.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) opposes the amendment and said he will be working to remove it from the supplemental bill.
“Instead of ensuring that American troops are provided with the tools and resources that they need to protect our homeland, some in the Senate have instead chosen to jeopardize this funding by inserting provisions that are — at best — counterproductive to the efforts of our military members,” said Vitter in a press release.
According to Feinstein, the legislation is supported by the American Farm Bureau, the United Farm Workers, and other similar organizations but this is likely because it allows those employers to continue paying excessively low wages.
Feinstein assured the Appropriations Committee that the bill was not an amnesty because it requires the individuals work at least 100 days a year in the agricultural industry for the next five years.
“It is an emergency agricultural worker bill, which will give protected status to those workers who have worked in agriculture within the last 48 months,” she said, also noting that the U.S. would lose $5-9 billion to foreign competition without it.
Those are the same arguments that we heard last summer. In truth, Feinstein-Craig DOES provide amnesty for an unknown number of illegal workers. It provides, as the Bush-McCain-Kennedy bill did, a path to citizenship for some illegal aliens.
The amendment will go through the Senate this week as they consider the Iraq spending bill as a whole. At this writing, it isn’t clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring the measure to the floor for a vote.
NumbersUSA, an organization fighting illegal immigration, called the amendment “outrageous” and urged constituents to contact their political leaders. They noted that because families can also obtain temporary legal status through the amendment, it could reach almost 3 million people.
“The most important point to stress is that there is no need for an amnesty to provide growers with workers…there already is an H-2A foreign agricultural worker program that provides growers with an unlimited number of temporary workers if the growers agree to pay a decent wage and ensure that they go home at the end of the season,” said NumbersUSA news release.
Some farming organizations, like the Northwest Growers Association, not only support the measure but don’t think it does enough. They claim the AgJobs amendment doesn’t do enough for illegal aliens because it includes an “unrealistic visa cap.”
But the H-2A visa program exists and works without a cap. While Craig and others claim “oranges are rotting” on trees and needs illegal aliens to tend to our agriculture, places like the North Carolina Grower’s Association (NCGA, spotlighted on Michelle Malkin’s blog), oppose the amendment and have fared well with H-2A. NCGA utilizes H-2A to its fullest capacity as other agricultural organizations do not.
Additionally, AgJobs would maximize H-2B visas (lower skill, non-agricultural seasonal workers) and push an influx of more illegal immigrants, which clashes with what the American people want. They demonstrated their disapproval of amnesty proposals last year by a bipartisan grassroots effort to kill the immigration reform bill of 2007.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) also slipped in an amendment supporting illegal immigrants in the supplemental bill. Mikulski hopes to extend a program for temporary workers to re-enter the country without being subject to the limits on H2B visas. In a Congress Daily article, she said, “If you like Maryland crabs, vote for this amendment.”
“It seems that the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee love our troops…but for entirely different reasons: they provide convenient cover for passing special interest legislation to benefit illegal aliens and powerful business lobbies,” wrote Ira Mehlman, Media Director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in an opinion piece yesterday.
Mehlman also reported that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) added a provision that would include 218,000 visas for skilled foreign workers. Part of the problem is this: Right now, America’s population is 300 million. At the rate we are going with illegal immigrants (sped up by amendments like these), the US Census Bureau estimates the population will be 450 million by 2050. If a Democrat, entitlement-oriented government sinks its teeth in, taxes will be higher than ever and freedom will be in jeopardy.
The Senate will begin debate on the supplemental bill tomorrow and is likely to vote on it before the end of the week. Some Republican senators — including Alabama’s Jeff Sessions and others — are working hard to expunge the illegal alien amnesty provisions. The only thing that may save the day is that the Democrats are including many of the antiwar measures that the president has vetoed in previous bills. If the bill passes, it’s likely to be vetoed.
And Congress will be back to ground zero after Memorial Day.