A South Carolina peach farmer has a stake in an immigration bill now in the full U.S. Senate and is anxious to see it pass.
Peach grower Chalmers Carr of Titan Farms has been directly involved in negotiating parts of that bill.
“The agriculture industry itself was divided for the last five or six years between what the Western states needed and what the Eastern states needed. Through leadership of the Farm Bureau and some others, there was a united coalition put together called the Ag Workforce Coalition (the AWC) which I’m one of the board members of.
“We sat down with the unions, Senator Feinstein and the Gang of Eight and we hammered out a bill that is good for all of agriculture,” Carr explained.
The bill before the Senate right now reauthorizes a new guest worker program and would include all areas of agriculture.
“The current H2A program that I work under was developed in 1986 under the Immigration Reform back then. That bill is outdated and has not had any substantive change. In fact, it’s only had negative changes. It only employs right now 55,000 guest workers into this country into a workforce that’s estimated at 1.5 to 2 million… so it tells you it’s outdated,” Carr said.
At the same time, he says he struggles in hiring locals:
“My current wage rate on my farm, because I’m in the legal guest worker program, is $9.79/hr plus free housing and free transportation for any worker travelling from outside this area to come to work, when the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Yet I still can’t get any Americans to come and do the job. Now, you look at today, it’s 95 degrees outside and my crew back home is picking peaches in this. Not too many people want to do this.
The state’s agricultural, hospitality and homebuilding industries spoke out last week on the Senate version of the reform bill, originally sponsored by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and a bipartisan group known as the “Gang of Eight.”
The state’s hospitality and restaurant industry says it suffers from the same out-of-date restrictions as their agricultural counterparts.
“From all indications, this is going to be a banner year for tourism,” said John Durst of the SC Restaurant and Lodging Association. “True comprehensive immigration reform is good for South Carolina … and it is long overdue.”
The bill is still in the full Senate, where debate centers around a long list of amendments. Senate and House Republicans want assurance that tougher plans for border security will take priority over changes in the citizenship process.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that he would keep the Senate working through the weekend if the measure did not move along faster.