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Farm leaders call for congressional action in wake of immigration ruling

Key farm groups dependent on immigrant labor said the Supreme Court’s decision on immigration today once again demonstrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

The court struck down a significant portion of Arizona's effort to prosecute and deter illegal immigrants, but upheld the law's directive that state and local police may check the immigration status of people they stop when they suspect them of lacking legal authorization to be in the United States. Legal analysts said, however, that the states will be subject to scrutiny over whether they are engaging in racial profiling during these immigration checks.

Jerry Kozak

Jerry Kozak
The National Milk Producers Federation, whose members are dependent on immigrant labor in large dairies that produce the majority of the nation’s milk supply, said immigration reform remains an issue.

“The mixed high court ruling, along with the recent executive order by the Obama administration to stop the deportation of some younger, undocumented individuals, fully illustrates how that, regardless of which path is chosen, the few options for immigration reform remain controversial and divisive,” National Milk President the CEO Jerry Kozak said. “At the same time, these developments also show how critically necessary it is to resolve the immigration policy conundrum, especially for farmers and other employers concerned with maintain and recruiting a workforce.”

Kozak also noted, “The court upheld the law's directive that state and local police may check the immigration status of people they stop when they suspect them of lacking legal authorization to be in the United States. The justices unanimously stated that federal law already requires immigration officials to respond to status checks from local authorities, and therefore federal immigration law does not preempt this section of the Arizona law.

“However, much of SB1070 was overturned as interfering in the federal government’s role as the sole arbiter of immigration law,” Kozak said. “In a 5-3 ruling, the court said Arizona in effect had tried to set up a parallel enforcement system that punished illegal immigrants more harshly and interfered with congressional authority over the nation's borders. The court rejected parts of the state law that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work, to fail to carry immigration papers, and that authorized warrantless arrests of people suspected by state and local police of committing deportable offenses.”

Kozak concluded, “This decision highlights the need for continued efforts to reform federal immigration laws, and NMPF will continue to work with regulators and lawmakers to create workable solutions for dairy farmers and their workers.”

Tom Nassif

Tom Nassif
Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents California and Arizona producers who ship half the nation’s fruits and vegetables, called for congressional action.

“The Supreme Court decision today highlights again the need for federal legislative action on immigration reform,” Nassif said. “Congress needs to take action on these issues.”

“This decision by the court, invalidating much of a state immigration measure, along with the president’s recent announcement on children brought to the United States illegally, demonstrate again that Congress must act to address these issues in a long-term and unified manner,” Nassif said. “Voters would support sensible and incremental reforms that begin to address the broken system employers currently face, addressing the needs of agriculture is the place to begin.”

“We have been waiting for years for Congress to act on a solution that provides agriculture a legal and stable workforce,” a Western Growers spokesman added.

“Many members of Congress have told us that some version of the Dream Act would have to be included in a package with an agriculture labor fix," the spokesman said. "Now that the president has moved unilaterally on the Dream Act, it is more important than ever that he exert leadership on the agriculture labor problem and propose a solution to Congress. This summer, farmers across the nation will lose crops for lack of workers. We need the president to put at least as much effort into this problem as he has the Dream Act.”

Nassif served in the State Department and as an ambassador during the Republican presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Bruce Goldstein of the Farmworker Justice Fund added his voice to the call for congressional action.

“The Supreme Court decision does not end the battle over state immigration laws but only highlights the consequences of congressional stalemate and inaction,” Goldstein said.

“Congress should enact comprehensive immigration reform, including a program to allow the undocumented agricultural workers harvesting our crops in the United States to earn legal immigration status leading to citizenship.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has written immigration legislation focused on farm workers, said in a news release that the ruling indicated the need for immigration matters to be handled in Washington.

“In overturning much of Arizona’s misguided immigration law, the Supreme Court sent a strong message today that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of Congress, not the individual states,” Feinstein said. “Border protection and immigration enforcement have been and will continue to be the legal preserve of the federal government."

“I remain concerned that the sole remaining provision — the requirement that police check the immigration status of a person they’ve otherwise stopped or arrested — raises serious constitutional concerns that will result in civil rights violations against citizens and immigrants alike,” Feinstein continued. “But it is important to note that while the court did not strike down this provision at this time, it made clear that Arizona must be very careful how it enforces this provision or it, too, will be overturned.”

“Washington has failed to fix our broken immigration system. I am hopeful that the court’s decision moves Congress to finally take action in a bipartisan manner to bring about responsible, comprehensive reform,” Feinstein concluded.