It’s been a busy week at Ron Macedo’s pumpkin patch. He grows some 50 varieties of pumpkins and gourds (including some that look like bumpy reptiles!) on his farm near Turlock. Planting and harvesting squash by hand is labor-intensive. He says he always used to have farmworkers coming by to ask for work.
“But that just never seems to happen anymore. I’ll have to go and ask around and try and look and find somebody somewhere,” says Macedo.
Fear of a labor shortage has fueled farmers’ support not only for a guest worker program, but a way to legalize undocumented workers already here.
Macedo’s standing in front of a corn maze guarded by a big scary Frankenstein that says “enter at your own risk.” And, that, he says, is exactly the kind of guts it took for Congressman Jeff Denham (R-CA District 10) to back comprehensive immigration reform and the Democratic bill HR 15. bucking his party leadership, which is pushing for a more piecemeal approach.
“His fellow congressman should take notice,” says Macedo. “California is the number one ag[riculture] state by far. The district he represents, he gets it. He understands. He’s doing not only what’s best for the region, but for the entire country.”
Growers like Macedo helped elect Denham, a fellow farmer. In 2012, he won by just five percentage points against Latino Democratic Challenger Jose Hernandez, in a district that’s pretty evenly split between Ds and Rs.
But Denham’s immigration stand may boost his appeal among Latinos, who make up 40 percent of his district.
“He definitely is looking at the Latino vote and how that is impacted by immigration reform, if it passes or doesn’t pass,” says Sergio Lara, who runs the Modesto office of the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a nonpartisan Latino voter registration group.
This week, eager young bilingual volunteers whipped out their cell phones to invite community members to meet Denham and celebrate the news at an event this weekend.
For months, the group has rallied at Denham’s office, and delivered hundreds of cards from businesses and voters. They even convinced Denham to appear in a video about the importance of Republican support for immigration reform.
In fact, a recent poll from America’s Voice showed 72% of voters in Denham’s district support immigration reform with a path to citizenship, including 68% of Republicans.
But when we caught up with him at the Capitol, Denham told us this is not about securing votes.
“I’ve been very clear. This is a personal issue to me. Elections will be what they are come election time, My job is to be a leader, and I’m going to be a leader on this issue,” he said.
The next challenge for Denham? To get other California Republicans to sign on with him. He’s had one colleague step up so far: David Valadao, another San Joaquin Valley farmer-turned-Congressman.