Immigration reform is a hot topic in Ken-tucky just as much as in other areas like California or Texas. Here in Pulaski County, immigrant workers play a significant role in the agricultural economy.
Mark Haney, president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau who manages Haney’s Appledale Farm, said Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) supports recently-intro-duced U.S. legislation that would provide a 10-year process toward gaining citizenship for undocumented immi-grants.
“We are enthusias-tically for it,” Haney said. “In the agriculture economy, no one else seeks those jobs anymore. They just won’t show up at the farm.”
The bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate also provides for a new category of Registered Provisional Immigrants and requires employers to track the status of those they hire. The legislation could have a significant impact on approximately 11 million immigrants currently living in the country without documented citizenship.
Haney said KFB worked with the American Farm Bureau which participated in negotiations in Washington as the bill was cobbled together. He said Farm Bureau support was tied to provisions to make it easier for the agriculture community to hire immigrant labor.
Haney said the seasonal demands of agricultural jobs makes it difficult to hire local labor, much of which in the past came from family or neighbors or high school students. But those days and that culture don’t exist anymore.
The bill was cobbled together by a group of senators from both sides of the aisle, led by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mark Rubio of Florida. While the measure — or the outlines of the 844-page bill which have been made public — has drawn some criticism from both those seeking a more liberal policy and those demanding more border security and a tougher line on “amnesty,” the initial reactions Wednesday seemed positive.
“Immigrant labor is absolutely essential to agriculture in Kentucky,” said H.H. Barlow, who operates a 130-cow dairy farm near Cave City. “It has a major economic impact on Kentucky and on the $5 billion agriculture economy.”
Barlow and Haney are both registered Republicans and both have lobbied Kentucky’s two U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, to support the legislation. Paul, who has said he is exploring a 2016 run for President, has recently endorsed at least some form of immigration reform as his party attempts to reach out to Hispanic voters.
Barlow said Paul has been sympathetic, while he said McConnell “is very aware about this issue and he’s interested in how important it is to Kentucky.” Krebs, the Lexington attorney, said he met with McConnell’s staff who told him McConnell hopes for “a very robust debate,” rather than a quick trip through committees in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But McConnell hasn’t said if he’ll support the measure.
McConnell issued a statement Wednesday on the bill through his Washington press office, saying he appreciates the work done by the bipartisan group of senators. “But in order for any reform to be successful, congressional committees will need adequate time to review it and write legislation through regular order,” McConnell said. “And all members must have an opportunity to debate and amend any legislation that comes to the floor.”
CNHI reporter Ronnie Ellis contributed to this story