Yuma’s farmers sent a delegation to Washington last week, pleading with Congress to quickly find a way to make it easier for Mexican workers with daily entry visas to reach U.S. fields.
But a new immigration reform bill introduced Thursday by Rep. J.D. Hayworth, RAriz., does just the opposite, making it harder for foreign workers and their families to get into this country.
Now, tougher border enforcement is forcing these workers to wait in line for hours at a distant port of entry before they actually can start 10-hour shifts picking vegetables. Many laborers believe it’s not worth the hassle anymore, said Yuma Mayor Larry Nelson.
Agriculture leaders fear they will lack up to 10,000 workers this year, leading to a disastrous harvest starting around Thanksgiving with rows of lettuce and broccoli left to rot.
Higher prices would follow immediately, some experts predict, as Yuma County provides more than 90 percent of the nation’s salad vegetables during the winter.
Hayworth’s bill calls for military troops on the border, a crackdown on employers and clear authority for local police to make arrests — nearly every measure sought for years by strict immigration-control advocates.
It also would deny any new work visas to a Mexican national for three years, in an attempt to pressure that country’s government to be more cooperative in stopping illegal border crossings.
Hayworth said the nation must take strong, and
expensive, steps to restore control over the border and to protect national security. Yuma farmers say his bill would strike hard at the pocketbooks of every American.
"That is asinine, completely ridiculous," said Doug Mellon, owner of one Yuma’s largest farming operations. "What it would do to the economy if you take those immigrants out of the labor force would be dramatic."
Hayworth’s proposal shows just how divided President Bush and different factions of Congress remain on immigration reform. His bill clashes sharply with competing plans by Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both RAriz., that offer ways for more foreign workers to enter legally.
Hayworth was critical of attempts to combine tougher border enforcement reform with any guest-worker program.
"I know it’s not (McCain and Kyl’s) intent, but the result is amnesty," Hayworth said. "There’s no other way to describe it. You are forgiving the commission of a crime, which by definition is amnesty."
Congress already is moving ahead with more border enforcement plans. Key negotiators agreed Thursday to increase spending by $6 billion in the new Homeland Security appropriations bill, which would include 1,000 more Border Patrol agents and 20,000 new detention beds.
Meanwhile, Hayworth and other members of Arizona’s delegation will push to create a temporary port of entry near Yuma so Mexican workers with legal visas can be brought directly to farm fields during winter harvest. Hayworth said that change wouldn’t conflict with his reform bill.
"This will be a daily commute, really no different than is what happening now at the border at Nogales and other ports of entry," Hayworth said. "But what is important is knowing who is coming in. It is very different than an amnesty or a six-year grace period."
Proposed Enforcement of First Immigration Reform Act of 2005, filed Thursday by Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.:
• Add 10,000 federal agents to focus solely on employers who hire unauthorized workers, plus $100 million per year for prosecutions.
• Increase prison time for hiring illegal immigrants to one to five years, increase fines from $10,000 to $50,000 for each worker and require employer to pay for deportation.
• Require employers to verify residency of new employees with federal electronic database.
• Deny illegal workers access to Social Security benefits, even if taxes were deducted from their wages.
• Shift 120,000 existing entry visas to employment-based, eliminating the lottery and sibling programs.
• Deny any new work visas to Mexicans for three years.
• Create new tamper-resistant Social Security card with photograph and electronic coding.
• Bars any government or bank from accepting foreign identification other than passports.
• Authorize military troops for border security.
• Add 11,250 new Border Patrol and Customs agents.
• Fund $2.5 billion for new border technologies.
• Eliminate need for special training for state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.
• Add 400,000 foreign nationals with deportation orders to national crime databases.
• Provide access to $1 billion in funds to encourage police to enforce immigration laws.
• Make it a felony to vote in a foreign election or to campaign for a foreign office unless approved by the State Department.