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Border security, job market leave farms short of workers.

Border security, job market leave farms short of workers: Farmers of all types of specialty crops, from almonds to roses, have seen the immigrant labor supply they depend on dry up over the past year. Increased border security and competition from other industries are driving migrant laborers out of the fields, farmers say. Earlier this year, many farmers were optimistic about finding a solution in the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, or AgJobs. The bill would allow undocumented agricultural workers already in the United States to become legal permanent residents and would streamline the current guest-worker program. In March and September, hundreds of growers traveled to the Capitol to lobby for the bill.

But deep divisions within the Republican Party have stalled immigration reform. Although legislation to build a 700-mile fence along the border passed the House and Senate, the AgJobs proposal has languished.

As the border tightens, Mexican workers who once spent part of each year in American fields without a work permit fear that if they go back to Mexico, they will be trapped behind the border, farmers say. Instead, they stay in the United States, taking year-round jobs that pay more and are less backbreaking than farm work, such as cleaning hotels or working in construction in cities on the Gulf Coast devastated by last year's hurricanes.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Date:Oct 9, 2006
Words:222
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