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PD Editorial: A clear case for overhauling immigration

  • A field of cantaloupe rots in the afternoon sun on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Federal health officials said Wednesday more illnesses and possibly more deaths may be linked to an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in coming weeks. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

In our Sunday Forum section, Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton made a practical case for immigration reform, telling the stories of growers in the nation's No. 1 farming state.

A day earlier, the Field Poll provided the latest illustratation of dramatic changes in the political landscape that make immigration ripe for comprehensive reform for the first time in a quarter-century.

Congress needs to seize the moment and act.

Agriculture isn't the state's only signature industry that stands to benefit from immigration laws that streamline access to potential employees. Silicon Valley technology companies want to bring more engineers and programmers here, in turn creating demand for other employees. Unfortunately, outdated limits on work visas often make it easier to ship work to other countries.

Skelton wrote about growers leaving produce to rot in their fields because they couldn't enough temporary workers for harvest season. "Not just any bozo off the street can come in and harvest produce," said Mark Teixeira, a vegetable farmer in Santa Maria.

A typical harvest job pays about $13 an hour, and "Americans won't take these jobs," Dave Puglia, senior vice president of the Western Growers Association, told Skelton. "Not even the farmworkers raise their own children to take these jobs. It's hard work. And it's not unskilled labor."

Ag organizations including the Western Growers favor guest worker programs and a better system of verifying eligibility. Such measures would make it less likely that crops rot in the field — and also less likely that laborers get exploited by unscrupulous farmers or labor contractors.

Other supporters of temporary work visa programs include both the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.

It isn't any revelation that Congress has a hard time settling on a lunch menu, much less on the content of major legislation. On this issue, however, a combination of public support and political cover (how often are the chamber and organized labor on the same side?) might be enough to get a bill passed.

Consider the latest Field Poll results: Nine in 10 California voters would allow illegal immigrants to become citizens if they have a job, learn English and pay any back taxes they may owe. That's up from 75 percent in 2006.

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