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Farmers worry about fate of immigration bills

Published: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 10:45 a.m. CDT

ATWOOD, Mich. (AP) — For northern Michigan fruit grower Pat McGuire, the most potent symbol of the immigration debate isn’t grainy television footage showing people slipping furtively across the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead, it’s plump red cherries and crisp apples rotting on the ground because there aren’t enough workers to pick them.

The industry insists its chronic labor shortage isn’t a matter of low pay, but too few Americans willing to deal with the long hours, hot weather and other hardships of farm labor.

The Senate bill would enable experienced farm workers already in the country illegally to obtain “blue cards” making them eligible for year-round residency and ultimately citizenship, on a faster path than other people here illegally. Applicants who entered the U.S. illegally would have to pay a fine, catch up on taxes and pass a background check. Another new program would allow farmers to hire foreign “guest workers” who would be issued three-year visas.

Youngquist, 53, another staunch Republican, said he wished his fellow conservatives were more sympathetic toward immigrants who fill jobs that no one else will take. The more intense border enforcement appears to be taking its toll, he said. His migrant labor housing that is usually half-full for the approaching apple harvest is now “at zero,” he said. “We’re sitting on a beautiful crop of apples. Unless things change, none of it is going to get picked.”

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