By Ricardo Lopez
10:44 PM CST, January 28, 2013
After a group of bipartisan senators unveiled a plan to grant legal status to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., California farmers lauded Monday’s announcement, saying it would help farmers more easily hire farmhands.
Farmers in the state have for years lobbied for immigration reform, citing difficulties in hiring labor to pick produce and do other farmwork.
Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau, the largest farm organization in the state, welcomed the move by the group of senators.
“Farmers struggle to hire enough domestic employees, so they rely on foreign employees willing to harvest America’s food,” Wenger said in a statement. “Many of the people who tend to the food we eat are not properly documented. Reform of immigration laws should secure our borders and allow immigrants who are contributing to our communities to work in farming.”
The Senate plan, drafted during weeks of closed-door meetings, would allow most of those in the country illegally to obtain probationary legal status by paying a fine and back taxes. They would also have to pass a background check. That would make them eligible to work and live in the U.S.
Another group, the Western Growers, based in Irvine, also welcomed the re-introduction of immigration reform as a legislative priority this year.
“We have worked for years with Sens. [John] McCain and [Jeff] Flake on a solution for the immigration crisis facing agriculture,” said Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers group. “We applaud them for developing these principles and look forward to working together with them along with Sens. [Dianne] Feinstein and [Marco] Rubio to ensure the agriculture piece of this critical legislation addresses our industry’s concerns once and for all.”
Nassif's group has in the past lobbied for a U.S. guest worker program that would grant legal status to illegal immigrants working in agriculture.
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