The House's rejection of the Farm Bill could signal a shift in the way Congress views agricultural policy.
For decades, lawmakers on agriculture committees have included nutritional programs in Farm Bills to garner urban votes. But that marriage has made passage harder this time around. And some lawmakers have suggested separating farm and nutritional programs into separate bills.
In the wake of the defeat, the House could push for an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, or negotiate another measure with the Senate and try again.
The Senate, you’ll recall, approved its version of the Farm Bill last week and moved on to the even thornier issue of immigration reform.
This week, however, federal authorities busted an operation circumventing current immigration laws. But it wasn’t the undocumented workers who were arrested. It was their employers.
In what has been called the ‘largest illegal immigrant employment investigation’ ever conducted in the U.S., nine owners and managers of 7-Eleven convenience stores located in New York and Virginia were arrested this week, on charges of wire fraud conspiracy, aggravated identity theft and concealing and harboring illegal aliens.
Loretta Lynch /U.S. Attorney: "The franchise owners that we have charged were engaged in a pattern of fraud and worker exploitation that involved stolen identities, false information submitted to their payroll provider and the systematic exploitation of the mostly illegal immigrant workforce that they sought out and that they employed.”
Described by officials as a ‘modern-day plantation system’, the scheme allegedly cheated undocumented workers from Pakistan and the Philippines out of 75 percent of their wages. The resulting $182 million in profits were shared by the defendants and 7-Eleven.
Loretta Lynch / U.S. Attorney: “Immigrant workers were routinely forced, upon threat of job loss or deportation, to work upwards of 100 hours a week, to live only in the houses the defendants owned, and were given only a small percentage of the money they earned."
The federal indictment alleges that since 2000, store owners employed more than 50 immigrants who did NOT have permission to be in the U.S. Victims of identity theft used to conceal workers’ true identities include a child, 3 deceased people and a U.S. Coast Guard cadet.
A spokesman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven pledged full cooperation with the federal probe, and said the company ‘will take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees' employees’
Federal officials also executed search warrants at more than 40 other stores across the country suspected of similar infractions.
Zuni Shahid/Arrested Owner’s Sister-in-law: "We just got a phone call that he was arrested and we don't know the reasoning behind it, so hopefully we find out soon.”
Authorities say the case came to light due to undocumented workers, who, despite their legal status, blew the whistle on their bosses’ dubious employment practices.
In the nation’s capitol, the plight of illegal aliens remains a thorny issue, as the ongoing push for immigration reform moves in fits and starts. Analysis by the Congressional Budget Office this week concluded the Senate proposal would only tamp down illegal immigration 25 percent. Critics claim new programs in the bill allow temporary workers, who could easily abuse the privilege by overstaying their visas.
Proponents of the Senate effort latched onto another key finding by the CBO this week that said immigration reform would boost the economy and reduce federal deficits by billions of dollars.
Both sides of the aisle remain at odds on the issue, though some in the Obama administration view agriculture as playing a key role in bringing lawmakers back to the negotiating table.
Sec. Tom Vilsack/Department of Agriculture: “Giving agriculture a stable workforce, and complimenting it with a guest worker system that is less bureaucratic, less cumbersome, and is administered by the USDA, is also part of this comprehensive immigration reform bill, which will also provide an assurance that there will always be sufficient folks to work on our fields, in our ranches, on our farms.”