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Western Growers poll shows guest worker program support

Western Growers, which represents California and Arizona fruit and vegetable producers, today released a poll showing that 70 percent of voters would support a guest worker program for immigrant farm workers.
Tom Nassif

Tom Nassif
In a telephone news conference with reporters today, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif said that the group had hired the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, to conduct a poll that interviewed 1,000 Americans in late January.

Nassif, who has been a Republican political appointee, said he decided to take the survey after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told him that Republican officeholders believe that if they vote for immigration reform “their constituents would not support them.”

In the survey, respondents were told that that the guest worker program would include:
  • A requirement to first offer jobs to U.S. workers
  • Restrictions on entry points and length of stay
  • Market-based limitations on visas awarded
  • Strict oversight of participating employers, and
  • Withholding of worker payroll taxes.

The program also allows existing workers to participate in the program without receiving amnesty.

Seventy-eight percent of likely voters favored withholding Social Security and Medicare taxes taken from the paychecks of temporary migrant farm workers, the Tarrance Group said.

Respondents were also told the program would refund Social Security taxes to the workers after they return to their home country and that Medicare taxes would go towards covering any costs of treating uninsured patients in local hospitals.

“It is clear that American voters aren’t caught up in the harsh rhetoric claiming immigration reform should be about punishing hard working farm workers or leaving American family farmers without a work force,” Nassif said in a news release the accompanied release of a summary of the poll.

“Americans know that we need a practical and well-regulated national program that allows immigrants to come out of the shadows to work here on our farms,” Nassif said.

“The fact of the matter is that Americans know farm work is and will continue to be done by foreigners, and they accept that reality. That’s why an overwhelming majority of voters in both parties support a smarter way for the federal government to handle agricultural guest workers who help produce the healthy food on our plates.”

In the telephone call, Nassif said that no guest worker legislation has been written, but that Western Growers is now trying to attract interest in the idea because it has proven impossible “to get anything passed that has a pathway to citizenship.”

The guest worker proposal, he said, would allow workers into the United States for only a specific period, include “no pathway to citizenship,” and would not permit them to bring family members.

Nassif said he believes Republican politicians may be interested in the proposal because they could use it as a way to reach Hispanic voters. He also said it might be possible to form a coalition with corporations that want visas to bring in high-tech workers.

Nassif said he believes that a guest worker bill would have to be attached to other legislation to make it through Congress, but said he does not want to try to attach it to the farm bill because he doesn't want to do anything that "jeopardizes it."

Farm worker and Latino groups have generally opposed immigration bills that do not include a pathway to citizenship. Nassif said he had worked with the United Farm Workers on AgJobs, the legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would include this, but has not approached farm worker groups about a guest worker program.

Nassif acknowledged that it would be difficult for the unions “to give up the pathway to citizenship.”