The U.S. House this week approved plans to build a 750-mile-long fence along the Mexican border. The "emergency measure" now goes to the Senate. Last May, the Senate approved a broader immigration bill with 370 miles of fencing and a guest worker program. As politicians spar over who has the best border control and immigration plan, farmers in some states are wondering who will harvest this year's crops. In Eastern Idaho, where the unemployment rate is just 2.3 percent, potato growers depend largely on migrant workers. This year though, tighter border security is leading to a labor shortage. In Washington this week, business and labor groups called on Congress to reform immigration policy.
Maureen Torrey Marshall, Torrey Farms, Inc.: "The choice is simple. Import needed labor or import our food."
Hundreds of business, labor and agriculture groups rallied this week on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Maureen Torrey Marshall, Torrey Farms, Inc.: "Agriculture needs access to a legal and stable workforce. Secure America's borders, but please pass immigration reform."
The rally was centered on the fall meeting of the United Fresh Produce Association. Its members traveled to Washington with baskets of freshly picked American produce, to show members of Congress what they believe America is at risk of losing --food independence and security.
Thomas Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association: "Without comprehensive immigration reform, we are not going to be able to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the supermarkets and stores of America. It's time for Congress to get serious about this challenge."
Several lawmakers also attended the rally, speaking to their colleagues on Capitol Hill about the urgency of the immigration issue.
Sen. Larry Craig, R - ID: "Shortages are showing up. Crops are not being harvested and many will rot in the fields today because the workers are not there."
Earlier in the week, a Republican-only forum on border security confirmed the House's rejection of the Senate's version of immigration reform. The Senate proposal combines enhanced border security with the creation of a guest worker program, and a means for illegal immigrants to move toward eventual legal status. The much stricter House version does not include a guest worker program.
While the stalemate over illegal immigration continues in Congress, one GOP senator appears willing to compromise.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R - IA: "Amnesty is really the only thing that is a major dispute. I think it's going to be easy to find compromise on everything else on the bill. So just on amnesty, if people that are here illegally go back home and want to come in legally, I would consider that as a possible compromise."