Valley contribution to immigration reform

FRESNO, California

The realities of immigration in the agriculture business has Valley farmers and laborers ready to send a message to Washington.

Before the harvest is done on Barbara Cecchini's asparagus crops, a chunk of her work force leaves her for more lucrative work.

"One day we'll have 60 workers," she said. "The next day we'll have 40 workers, so we have to decide what fields are the most productive and keep them and leave other fields we may have cut to go."

Cecchini estimates she lost ten to 20% of her crop last year and she believes her labor shortages will only get worse without immigration reform.

But she says the path to citizenship President Obama seems ready to give laborers isn't enough to make sure her crops make it to harvest.

It didn't work for her when President Reagan gave amnesty to many of her workers in 1986.

"They went on to better jobs, better paying jobs," Cecchini said. "Agriculture's not easy. Ag jobs are kind of where you start, not where you want to stay."

Cecchini had the ear of an aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein Wednesday during an immigration workshop at Fresno State.

She and other farmers and laborers brainstormed on the message to send to Congress as they consider reform.

Some worry about a possible mandatory E-verify program to make sure only legal workers are employed. But the chief concern for most seems to be a steady flow of imported workers on farms across the country.

"We're going to rely on outsourced labor," said Guadalupe Sandoval, managing director California Farm Labor Contractor Association. "If we're going to keep fruits and vegetables and dairy and all the other ag commodities affordable for you and I to be able to buy, it's going to be reliant on a low-cost immigrant workforce."

A group of lawmakers has been meeting in secret to hammer out a bipartisan reform bill, according to a staff member at the Fresno State workshop. But a final vote is unlikely to come soon enough to save Cecchini's asparagus this year.

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