Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 30
Santa Maria strawberry growers rally for immigration reform
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
Several speakers—including Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino—signed their names on a gigantic letter addressed to several U.S. legislators at a Sept. 26 rally for immigration reform.
Local strawberry farmers, agricultural groups, lawyers, and politicians—all uniting under the common thread of immigration reform support—filled a small room in the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center in Santa Maria for the rally organized by the California Strawberry Commission.
“Our current immigration system is broken,” Richard Quandt, a spokesperson with the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, said during the rally. “Current farm labor shortages across the Central Coast are resulting in crop losses.”
On the Central Coast alone, at least 1,000 acres of strawberry and vegetable fields weren’t harvested in 2012 due to a labor shortage, Quandt said. Those rows of plants cost farmers $4.4 million in losses, and they expect losses to be even higher this year.
Quandt and other speakers blamed the labor shortage on broken and outdated immigration laws, and urged legislators to keep the ball rolling on a reform bill. It’s been three months since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill.
As a result of the back-and-forth fiscal talk between Republicans and Democrats and the government shutdown on Oct. 1, immigration issues have been on the backburner for politicians. The bill is currently stalled out in the Republican-run House of Representatives.
The rally was a starting point for some Strawberry Commission members and Santa Maria agricultural leaders who headed to Washington, D.C., with a set of unlikely partners-in-action from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Together and individually, the groups had meetings Oct. 1 through 3 to speak with legislators about the issues and why they’re important.
The group’s vice president, Steve Wright, told the Sun that both agriculture and technology are extremely important to California’s economy. So although technology and agriculture seem like an odd pairing, they actually make a natural fit.
“Both of them depend on immigrants,” Wright said. “We like to think of it as, ‘imagine what people have in their hands every day: food and some kind of technology.’”
Wright said the tech industry is experiencing a shortage of high-skilled immigrants, similar to the agricultural world. He said students who come to the United States and graduate with high-tech degrees end up leaving the country to find work because it’s so hard to get a green card and there’s a low number of work visas available for immigrants.
Wright said in early August the leadership group also traveled to the nation’s capital in collaboration with the state’s Strawberry Commission.
“Last time we were there, we really felt like there was some movement on this issue,” Wright said. “The momentum for immigration reform has never been better than over the last 10 years, and we don’t want to lose that momentum.”