Next week could be the week Congress unveils comprehensive immigration reform legislation. California is home to more than two million immigrants who are here illegally, and a deal on immigration would be huge for California -- affecting workers, service and high tech employers, growers and families with mixed immigration status. Host Scott Shafer sat down with two people representing key interest groups in this issue.
Next week could, and I’ll say it again, could be the week Congress unveils comprehensive immigration reform. California, of course, is home to more than 2 million immigrants who are here illegally, living in the shadows to avoid deportation.
So, a deal on immigration would be huge for California -- affecting workers, service and high-tech employers, growers and families with mixed immigration status. It could also change our state and national politics.
Joining us now to talk about all that: Two people representing key interest groups in this issue. Barry Bedwell is president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. He joins us from our bureau in Fresno. Mr. Bedwell, good to have you with us.
Bedwell: Great to be here, Scott.
Host: And in Los Angeles, Mike Garcia, president of the SEIU United Service Workers West. His union represents more than 40,000 janitors and other service workers in California. Mike Garcia, hello to you as well.
Garcia: Thank you.
Host: Let me begin by asking each of you. I’ll start with you, Barry Bedwell. What still needs to be worked out? What’s the toughest and most important issue that’s still … details are still being considered and debated?
Bedwell: Well, I think from an agricultural perspective, we have to look at the practicality of immigration reform being a two-pronged approach dealing with those individuals who are here without documentation, but also creating a very important visa program that really needs to replace the current H2A program, which we’ve learned over a number of years is unworkable. Also, as the general business community has discussed the idea of a cap … how would a potential cap impact agricultural as well?
Host: Mike Garcia, from a labor perspective, I assume you would agree with some of that. But what else?
Garcia: On a guest worker program outside of agriculture, the U.S. Chamber, AFL-CIO and unions were able to work out an agreement and they passed that along to Congress who, I understand, is willing to accept that piece of it.
Host: Barry Bedwell, from growers’ perspective. What difference will it make to them? And, also to the migrant workers you depend on to have this worked out?
Bedwell: Well, I think it’s a huge difference in terms of … we all understand that we are watching a situation of seeing the labor supply tightening. There’s no question about that. Looking at the needs of California agriculture, as well as the rest of the nation, we know that for California, for instance, we need something in excess of 440,000 workers. The reality is that we want a situation where people can go home comfortably every evening. Feel safe and secure. The idea of living in the shadow is a very real one. More and more, the grower community understands that this is a situation that needs to be corrected.
Host: Mike Garcia, what difference will it make to the employees you work with. Janitors and other service workers?
Garcia: Well, it will dramatically change their lives and stabilize their very existence and remove the fear element of ICE raids and potential loss of jobs and income, broken families and destroyed lives.
Host: Let me ask you about this “path to citizenship,” or what critics call “amnesty.” That seems to be one of the big sticking points. Advocates for immigrants are concerned that path can become more of an obstacle course. Barry Bedwell, I don’t know how much of a dog you have in that fight. What do you think is the right balance to strike?
Bedwell: Well, I think, as it’s been said: The last election had consequences and one of the consequences, I believe, the idea of the issue of citizenship generally was acted upon by the electorate. Having said that, I think we need to create a fair system where the right individuals can move on a pathway to citizenship in a reasonable amount of time. I think it is something that most people would look at now as not a reason for failure, and I am concerned particularly with some members of Congress continuing to get hung up on the citizenship issue. And I think we can address it properly by making the right requirements, whether it's background checks ... whether it’s the whole idea of getting in line in the proper placement -- the idea of citizenship now that I think is part of the general attitude toward accomplishing immigration reform.
Host: Mike Garcia, from the perspective of your union, what would you say is a non-negotiable? What has to be in the final package that comes out of Congress?
Garcia: We have to have citizenship. It’s the No. 1 issue. I agree with Barry that most folks have crossed that hurdle and understand that citizenship should be part of that package. It’s the fair thing to do. We understand there are a lot of pragmatic issues to address, such as making sure taxpayers aren’t paying for any costs of new people coming into the system. We have to make sure that those that genuinely want to be here and make a life here have a fair opportunity to do so without the overly restrictive fees, penalties and assessments.
Host: Barry Bedwell. We keep hearing this is an imminent deal. If you were a betting man, how would you place the odds right now?
Bedwell: I’d say 50/50. Unfortunately, I wish I could be more optimistic, but there are some obstacles to overcome. There has to be a realization that as we look at the components, particularly of a visa program, and the need for -- once people become legalized -- for agriculture. We've known, historically, agriculture is a pathway into other occupations. Having said that, and as people move potentially out of agricultural employment, we’re going to potentially need more visas as well. So, these are all intricacies that have to be discussed. The politics are always very difficult, particularly in the House of Representatives. But at this point in time, I am somewhere in the middle.
Host: All right, Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League in Fresno. Mike Garcia, president of the SEIU, United Service Workers West, joining us from Los Angeles. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.