Immigration reform is too important to agriculture for leaders to ignore or to assume the failure of the U.S. Senate once again to bring a compromise bill up for a vote will be the last gasp for those supporting a legislative fix.

“We can’t afford to quit working on it (immigration reform),” says J Carnes, Winter Garden Produce, Uvalde, Texas. Carnes, president of the Texas Vegetable Association, says fruit and vegetable producers across the country expect labor shortages this summer because of enforcement crackdowns on immigration.

“It’s a sad state now,” Carnes says. “We have a problem in this country and we have to have a compromise but our law makers can’t seem to come together to fix it.”

Carnes says the reform bill had a long way to go had the Senate brought it up for a vote. The measure faced a tough battle to pass Senate muster before it went to the House and then to committee to iron out differences.

“I don’t know where we go from here to fix the problem,” he says. “The bill was not perfect but it was considerably better than the status quo.”

He says several issues included in the compromise helped kill it. Some conservative Republicans opposed the amnesty clause. Some Democrats objected to the guest worker program. “It was a lot of things,” he says.

Carnes says a comprehensive immigration reform bill likely is dead until after the 2008 presidential election. “Stick a fork in it; it’s done,” he says. But he holds out hope for something to be done for agriculture.

“It’s too early yet. Ag leaders need to let things settle down, but we may see something. Agriculture may approach the issue a bit differently.”

Carnes says the ag coalition will stay together. “Now, we’re thanking those who supported our positions,” he says. “We don’t want to jump the gun.”

American Farm Bureau Federation leaders said they were disappointed the Senate was unable to move forward on the immigration issue during a cloture vote on June 28. “We respect the hard, bipartisan work that went into the legislation,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

“It is unfortunate for American agriculture, as well as the nation as a whole, that a solution to the problem has not yet been found,” he said, adding that up to $9 billion in agricultural production is at risk if the issue is not solved.

“Today’s vote was a setback not a defeat,” said Stallman. “We have seen our share of difficulties and delays in the years we’ve been working for immigration reform. Farm Bureau will continue working with Congress for meaningful immigration legislation because reform is not a question of if, but when.”

Tamar Jacoby, with the Manhattan Institute, which works with business coalitions in Washington, says failure to pass an immigration reform bill is “bad for American business and any industry that relies on immigrant labor. Crackdowns will continue from federal, state and local agencies. We’ll see supplemental funding for enforcement and a tightening of the noose.”

Jacoby says tighter scrutiny of immigration will not stop illegals from coming in. “But even a small reduction in the labor force can hurt. Growers may plant fewer acres. We’ll see a worse strangling of the economy.”

She says current immigration legislation is unworkable. “We can’t enforce an unrealistic law,” she says. “We’ll see more and more illegals and more sophisticated smugglers. We’ll see more and worse and a reduction in economic growth.”

Jacoby says, “never say never” on important issues. “We’ll take any chance we get but it will be hard. I hope by making the argument we have gotten somewhere. We’ll keep making the argument.”

She says it’s the nature of compromise to face daunting odds. “There is not much enthusiasm when legislators are trying to sell something they have doubts about.”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com