Last week, by a vote of 62-36, the U.S. Senate displayed overwhelming bi-partisan support for comprehensive immigration reform and cleared the way for a final conference with the U.S. House of Representatives.
The main features of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 include tightened border security, an employer verification system to help employers identify if a worker is legally eligible to work in the United States, a general industry temporary worker program (H-2C), a plan that will afford the majority of the undocumented workers currently living in the United States the ability to earn their ways to legal status, an extension of the H-2B return worker cap exemption and an agricultural sector component in the form of AgJOBS that includes H-2A reforms and an earned legalization program for agricultural workers.
“Today marks a significant victory for the green industry, agriculture and the general business community,” said Craig Regelbrugge, the American Nursery and Landscape Association’s (ANLA) senior director of government relations. “We owe a special thanks to chairman Specter (R-PA), along with Senators Craig (R-ID), Hagel (R-NE), Martinez (R-FL), McCain (R-AZ), DeWine (R-OH), Graham (R-SC), Kennedy (D-MA) and Feinstein (D-CA) who showed true leadership throughout the sometimes contentious debate. We respectfully urge them to continue their leadership throughout the conference process.”
“Senate passage of this legislation represents a ‘coming of age’ of the green industry,” according to Tom Demaline of Willoway Nurseries, Avon, Ohio. Demaline, who serves on ANLA’s Legislative Policy Committee and ANLA-Political Action Committee advisory board, describes an industry that is better organized and more engaged in the political process than at any time in its history. “Our two Republican Senators from Ohio took a number of difficult votes that were consistent with our industry’s position. The values and integrity that characterized our lobbying and grassroots effort have won their trust and respect,” Demaline added.
There is currently no date scheduled for the start of the conference committee meetings; however, Senator Specter, who will be chairing the conference committee, and President Bush have both indicated the need for completing the conference in a short time frame, according to ANLA.
“We are very pleased at the outcome of today’s vote, however, much work lies ahead for our industry,” said John Farner, ANLA’s director of legislative relations, “the status-quo is not an acceptable solution and we are hoping that Congressional leaders from both Houses of Congress will follow the President’s call for comprehensive reform this year.”