Walking A Lame Duck

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American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) has been fighting the good fight all year to help growers and landscapers secure access to legal immigrant workers, while protecting members from hostile legislation that could put them out of business.

Although ANLA has been working with other agricultural groups to promote reforms specific to agriculture in AgJOBS for many years, a sense of urgency became a crisis when the House of Representatives took a hard line passing an enforcement-only bill last December. Things were looking better in May, when the Senate passed a comprehensive bill including provisions for a guestworker program, the opportunity for workers to become legal, as well as enforcement. President Bush and members of his cabinet also supported this approach.

But this momentum was derailed in the summer, when the House conducted hearings on the issue in various parts of the country. ANLA did an outstanding job mobilizing members to make sure their stories were heard in the hearings and by organizing press conferences to balance the hearings. This led to an incredible amount of front-page, sympathetic press coverage in high-profile media, like The Washington Post.

State and regional nursery associations followed ANLA’s lead to make their voices heard. Texas Nursery & Landscape Association formed a coalition with other business leaders called Texas Employers For Immigration Reform. The coalition held a press conference in Dallas that was covered by three news stations and several radio and print reporters. Leaders also met with the Dallas Morning News editorial board, which resulted in a positive editorial.

Congress adjourned for this month’s elections without taking major action on comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, both the House and Senate passed legislation authorizing the construction of 700 miles of fencing and barriers along the Mexican border. President Bush also signed a $34 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill, which includes port security and border security and provides about $1 billion to initiate the fence construction. Boeing has also been contracted to provide electronic surveillance for both the Mexican and Canadian borders.

On the bright side, Congress did approve a one-year temporary fix to extend the exemption to the H-2B visa cap, which primarily affects the service industry, including landscapers. This allows workers who entered the country with visas in 2004-2006 to enter in 2007.

Next on the horizon is the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed guidance for responding to no-match letters from Social Security. If finalized, the guidance would put employers in the position of dismissing trained and experienced workers or accepting substantial legal liability.

Meanwhile, immigration enforcement raids have been on the rise, especially in the Northeast. In New York, dairy farms, vegetable farms and at least one nursery and one greenhouse operation have been raided and lost most of their workforce.

The next opportunity for meaningful reforms will be the lame duck session of Congress. ANLA has been organizing local delegations to meet with target lawmakers in their district to push for accountability and commitment to a comprehensive approach and meaningful action.

Now is the time to act. We need to strike while the iron is hot. For more on what you can do to make a difference, contact ANLA at 202-789-5980 and visit www.anla.org. Your congressional representatives need to hear from you on this vital issue.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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