Immigration Policy Questions Grow | WGLT

Immigration Policy Questions Grow

Dec 6, 2016

Sweet potatoes plowed up so migrant workers can trim off the greens and sort them by side near Mechanicsville, VA
Credit Lance Cheung / U.S. Department of Agriculture

The chief lobbyist at the Illinois Farm Bureau still thinks the nation will see comprehensive immigration reform.

But, it may take several more years because the incoming Trump administration may not take on the entire question right away.

Farm Bureau Issues and National Legislation Director Adam Nielsen said he also hopes the administration will be aware of the need for a stable agricultural workforce.

"My concern would be an enforcement only approach to immigration that would threaten what is occurring right now. Even though it is not legal, it has been stable for the most part. That could have a very disruptive impact on our economy. That is something we would all pay for at the grocery store," said Nielsen.

Nielsen said visa system reform for the ag sector as well for as high tech jobs remains a key to any eventual new comprehensive policy. And a lack of it would have a pronounced impact.

"We would also see a migration of some segments of agriculture across the borders, overseas, and so forth," said Nielsen.

He noted a GOP controlled Congress will be less focused than Democrats have been on a path to citizenship for undocumented residents, Nielsen said the GOP might be ok with a path to permanent residency instead.

The Illinois Farm Bureau has been part of a group called the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC) which united groups with diverse policy agendas on this particular issue. Nielsen said he hopes the immigration coalition can hang together in the early years of a Trump administration. Nielsen said ag worker visas, high tech worker visas, border security, and the status of undocumented workers are all linked issues, and proposals to address the multiple elements of the immigration issue have to happen at the same time for a bill to pass.

The campaign rhetoric from President Elect Donald Trump dealt mainly with border security. And some elements of the GOP want to hold Trump to his promises of a wall, deportations, and much tougher visiting and residency standards.

Nielsen said he believes we should take the campaign pronouncements with a grain of salt. One plausible scenario, he said, is that comprehensive immigration reform could wait until the third year of the Trump Presidency after the Republican friendly map of the mid term elections is likely to increase the GOP majority in the Senate.

But, given the profile of the issue, Nielsen said it is likely something will happen on the issue for the first time in three decades.