Cotton gins across the country have typically relied on a migrant and mostly Latino workforce. While in most places we’ve seen labor shortages from time to time, we haven’t seen what could be termed a labor crisis as yet. With the advent of state-mandated EVerify in various places, and increased I-9 audits and enforcement, labor is getting tougher and tougher to find. This magnifies the need for a viable program to bring workers into the country legally as labor gets tight.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, we have a shot at meaningful immigration reform. Things have started to work out so that agriculture may actually have an alternative to the H2A program and move on to something that will allow farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture to have access to a stable legal workforce via foreign workers.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen the introduction of immigration reform proposals by several powerful groups in Congress as well as the White House. The first, and one that has gotten a lot of attention, is a framework document presented by a bi-partisan group of eight senators led by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). This group’s proposal has four main pillars. Two of these pillars are things that agriculture has been pushing for years. Those are improvements to legal immigration programs with a program to provide seasonal guest workers and a way to transition from the current, largely undocumented workforce.
Specific to agriculture is a proposal from a newly formed coalition known as the Ag Workforce Coalition. This group has members such as the National Council of Farmer Coops, National Council of Ag Employers, Ag Coalition for Immigration Reform and the American Farm Bureau. They have put out a framework that will leave the current H2A program in place but add a new guest worker program for agriculture that has the potential to be cheaper and much easier to manage for farmers and others to use. Their proposal, as well as the Senate proposal, has a transitional program for those estimated 11 million undocumented aliens to a legal status over a period of years, possibly with the ultimate path to citizenship.
None of these proposals have any legislative language yet, and a lot of details need to be fleshed out before we will know if they can be supported. However, it is very encouraging that for the first time in a while, we have a chance to stabilize the workforce, which is positive for our industry and its workers.
Dusty Findley, executive vice president of the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association, contributed this report. Contact him at (706) 344-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Each month one of three different industry leaders – Findley, Kelley Green of Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association and Roger Isom of California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association – delivers a ginning update.