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OGDEN — A Utah farmer warned that unless changes are made to the nation's laws for immigrant workers, it could become difficult to stock our shelves with local produce and dairy.
Immigrants represent an important part of the American farming workforce, up to 70% of it.
It's an issue that Ron Gibson called too politicized and he said a new bill before the Senate needs changes before he can support it.
The work at his farm, Gibson Green Acres, is never finished, yet somehow farmworkers including Noe Lopez keep the place running like a well-oiled machine.
"In my job I like everything," said Lopez, who's been at the farm for more than 20 years. He takes a lot of pride in his work.
"Sometimes it's stress, sometimes (we) laugh and it's different any time. Every day it's different," said Lopez.
The work of farmhands like Lopez is often done in the shadows.
"My top people over there that I couldn't farm without, all of them are immigrants, every one of them," said Gibson.
According to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every 10 farmworkers, seven are immigrants. Five are undocumented, meaning they have no legal status.
Gibson said it's hard finding anybody else who wants his jobs.
"It's been four years since I have had anyone apply for that job — from America," Gibson said.
It's why Gibson is frustrated with the political conversations surrounding immigration.
"The problem is that immigration has become too politicized and based on party lines," Gibson said. "This is a matter of whether you're going to eat or not every day. And I just have a really short fuse of patience with Congress when we can't deal with these kind of issues in America."
A new bipartisan bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 would give legal status to undocumented workers, increase the number of visas for temporary farmworkers, and mandate a wage increase under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program. The program currently requires H-2A employers to pay seasonal farm workers about $15 per hour in Utah. Additionally, employers are required to cover housing costs and transportation expenses including travel to and from their home countries.
Gibson called the current minimum wage unaffordable and without a fix, he doesn't support the bill.
"Food is too cheap in America for us to be able to sustain that," Gibson said.
He said the U.S. needs to offer more immigrant farmworker visas. The bill proposed adding 40,000 seasonal farmworker visas, Gibson said that is not enough.
"I think if we could fix those two things this is a great bill," Gibson said.
However, Gibson supported the bill's initiative to grant legal status to undocumented farmworkers.
He helped sponsor Lopez in obtaining his permanent residency several years ago when an opportunity opened for farmworkers to apply.
The Farm Workforce Modernization passed the House back in March and moved on to the Senate.
"We have a great big family here, and they are an important part of our family, of our farm, and of our country," Gibson said, "I believe that the people who have been working hard and feeding America for decades should be able to have a green card.