The views of the nursery and landscape industries were well represented recently at an immigration reform field hearing held by U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA).
The hearing, held in Philadelphia, Pa., was the first of several that Specter has pledged to hold around the country in response to House Republican leaders’ pledge to hold hearings of their own. The House action reflects a decision to defer work on negotiating final comprehensive reform legislation.
Specter’s hearing featured nine witnesses ranging from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a Labor Department economist to employer, worker and religious advocates. U.S. economic needs and the role of temporary worker programs were a major point of emphasis. Two of the nine witnesses who testified specifically represented the needs and perspectives of the green industry.
Pittsburgh-area landscape contractor Dan Eichenlaub testified on behalf of the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PNLA) and American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA). “I can tell you, without hesitation, that there are not enough native-born, available American workers to fully staff and grow my business,” began Eichenlaub, who then described advantages and limitations of the H-2B temporary worker program, which his firm uses.
With many of the summer hearings focusing on border security and enforcement, Eichenlaub stressed, “It is ludicrous to think that we can secure our borders without creating workable, legal channels like H-2B and the proposed H-2C program.” He ended by praising the efforts of Chairman Specter and urged House leadership to come to the table to negotiate a comprehensive solution.
Pennsylvania Representative Art Hershey (R-Chester County), whose Chester County district includes several nurseries and 70 percent of America’s mushroom farms, spoke to the needs of agriculture and related those needs to the broader economy and employment base of his state.
“In the end, we are talking about more than just the jobs of farm workers. These industries create thousands of good-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians that would cease to exist if we don’t have labor on our farms. I’m talking about jobs providing inputs and supplies, equipment, marketing, packaging and processing, transportation lending and insurance. Economists tell us there are 3-4 such jobs created for every single farmworker job,” Hershey explained.
While the hearing also featured dissenting views — Louis J. Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., spoke about a anti-illegal-immigration measure enacted in his town — most witnesses strongly supported a comprehensive approach that combines enforcement with temporary worker and earned legalization programs for undocumented immigrants who meet strict conditions.
“Chairman Specter showed incredible vision and leadership moving the immigration bill through the Senate,” said John Farner, director of legislative relations with ANLA. “We look forward to working with the Chairman as he announces additional hearings to create a balanced record on the industry’s most pressing issue — comprehensive immigration reform.”