Vilsack Defends Farmworker Changes Against Immigration Attacks

UNITED STATES – JULY 21: Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack takes his seat to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigrant farmworkers and feeding America on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack batted back attacks from Republicans on the Biden administration’s border policies while discussing migrant farmworker programs at a Wednesday hearing, where Sen. Ted Cruz called Vilsack’s view on immigration “fertilizer.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on creating an earned pathway to citizenship for migrant farmworkers, several Republicans said they would not support such legislation without first ramping up border security.

“You don’t give amnesty and hope people won’t keep coming. You secure the border, then you provide legal status. We’re doing it ass backwards,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The House in March passed legislation that would allow migrants who worked a certain number of years in agriculture to apply for legal status. Vilsack defended the bill , saying he doesn’t believe its passage would cause an influx of migrants at the border.

“I think the primary reason why people are crossing the border, senator, is because they’ve got a very difficult experience economically back home,” Vilsack said.

“Have you ever talked to the Border Patrol about this?” Graham shot back. “Go talk to them. And you’ll find out how wrong you are.”

Cruz, R-Texas, who also slammed the Biden administration’s border policies, specifically took aim at Vilsack’s position on them.

“Mr. Secretary, if we were having a hearing on the optimum fertilizer for growing corn, I think you might be a very good witness,” Cruz said.

“And with all due respect your answers on immigration were fertilizer,” he added.

Vilsack defended the immigration portions of the proposed legislation, known as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, pushing back against claims that a process allowing farmworkers to apply for U.S. citizenship after paying a $1,000 penalty fee is “amnesty.”

He also challenged Republicans’ position that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants cannot come without heightened border security measures.

By Suzanne Monyak for ROLL CALL
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