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November 4, 2015

Laying the Foundations for Immigration Reform

While much of the recent public attention on immigration reform has been negative, Western Growers and many others continue efforts to educate members and quietly encourage the need for rationale rhetoric and positions from conservative-oriented officials.

It is no secret that Western Growers has been engaged in shaping the agricultural provisions of immigration reform over the past several years.  We were founding members of both the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) and the more-recently formed Ag Workforce Coalition (AWC).  Our work with these groups has been critical to shaping the policy, political, and public relations aspects of agriculture’s immigration needs, and that work will continue until we are ultimately successful in enacting immigration reform.

What may not be so well-known is the work our organization has done in conjunction with pro-immigration reform groups outside the agriculture sector, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, high-tech groups such as, the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), and the National Immigration Forum’s “Bibles, Badges and Business” coalition.  Our efforts to work closely with these groups has been a more recent development as we attempt to move immigration reform forward.

Over the past few years, some of the highlights this engagement has created includes: WG CEO Tom Nassif keynoting a multi-sector fly-in sponsored by BBB, PNAE and the Chamber, Nassif speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Chamber with other major business associations in D.C., and Western Growers Colorado member Robert Sakata, along with local business and faith leaders, meeting with Vice President Joe Biden in Denver.  Beyond these, there have been a number of other Congressional meetings and joint press opportunities that have occurred through our expanded engagement.

The Bibles, Badges and Business Coalition has been one of the more important groups we have engaged in the past three years.  The coalition brings together those with business/economic interests, faith-based groups especially conservative evangelical voices like the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, and law enforcement.  We are involved in the strategy of this coalition to regularly engage with Washington, D.C., policy-makers as well as at in-state, constituent-focused events.

The real value of this engagement is both the ability to ensure messaging on agriculture-specific components of immigration reform reflect our priorities and to amplify pro-immigration messages across the center-right political spectrum.  We have learned through the years that enacting immigration reform only for agriculture isn’t politically feasible, and we have also learned that the influence of labor-intensive agriculture is limited in terms of congressional districts.  Working in coalition with this group has allowed us to make the conservative economic, moral/ethical, and security argument for reform in Republican offices that may not care about who harvests their fruits and vegetables.

Even if immigration reform legislation doesn’t move forward in 2015 or 2016, our work in these broader coalitions is critical in setting the stage for action in 2017.  We need to continue making the broad case for why reform is critical.  We need to encourage presidential candidates to not give into harsh rhetoric that panders to what a small slice of the Republican electorate thinks, and we need to continue demonstrating that while anti-immigrant groups may be loud, there is a silent majority that supports sensible and pragmatic solutions to our immigration system.  Increasing the size and volume of that silent majority is one of the main goals of our work within these coalitions.

Whether we are discussing immigration policy, environmental regulation, water policy, expanding export opportunities, or technological innovation, it is increasingly important to partner with broader coalitions.  A significant component of our work in D.C. is participating and leading in these coalitions.  Gone are the days when any single group can make the argument for their issue to a small group of congressional legislators and expect their priorities to be addressed without question.  Today, the case still has to be made in D.C., but it also has to resonate with constituents in diverse congressional districts across America.  The broader the coalition, the more this impact is felt.