George Boardman: LaMalfa in bind with farmworker legislation
It’s the nature of politics to rally ‘round the flag when it comes to a party’s position on the major issues of the day. This is particularly true of Republicans who aspire to re-election or higher office and fear the wrath of you know who.
One way to stay on the good side of Donald Trump is an iron-fisted approach to illegal aliens, portrayed by the Grand Old Party as disreputable people — possibly criminals — who want to take jobs no Americans want. Rep. Doug LaMalfa can be counted among the believers.
He backed Trump’s call for the “big, beautiful” border wall that would be paid for by Mexico and cheered brass knuckles handling of those who dared cross the border. LaMalfa reaffirmed his position last month when he voted against HR 6, the Biden administration’s attempt to reform part of our broken immigration laws.
Portraying the Biden effort as a bill to grant mass amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants while doing nothing to improve border security, LaMalfa zeroed in on minors dumped at our border. “We must stop sending signals to the rest of the world that we will give amnesty protection, followed by a shortcut to citizenship for those who cross the border if they are minors.”
LaMalfa issued the statement March 19, a day after he voted for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, a bill that offers a path to legal status — either five-year visas or citizenship — for longtime U.S. agriculture workers with clean records in the country illegally.
If that sounds like amnesty, you stand in solidarity with the majority of Republicans in Congress.
But you won’t be standing with LaMalfa, who has backed the measure since it was introduced in the House in 2019.
LaMalfa consorted with known Democrats to help develop a bipartisan measure that was ultimately co-sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Don Newhouse, R-Washington state. “Agriculture’s been in desperate need of a stable, solid labor force for a long time” LaMalfa said then. “A formal system of documentation will be better for the workers, it’ll be better for the farmers, it will be better for the nation’s security.”
If this makes LaMalfa sound like a hypocrite, he’s hardly alone. This carve out is a classic example of former Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill’s observation that “All politics is local,” and members of both parties will ignore their stated position on an issue when it benefits their constituents.
LaMalfa represents thousands of farmers in the 1st Congressional District, many of whom rely on America’s 2.4 million farm workers to work the farms and harvest the crops. The prospect of a stable work force resonates in California’s $50 billion agriculture industry, the source of over 400 commodity crops that supply much of America’s fruits and vegetables.
Those crops are worked and harvested by an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 farm workers, most of whom are undocumented. If the immigration hard liners in the Republican Party get their way, much of America’s agriculture industry — and one of California’s biggest industries — will rot in the fields.
The measure passed in the House the first time in December 2019 with a bipartisan vote of 260-165 after Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on the floor to make a rare personal appeal to colleagues to support the bill, calling the measure “a historic victory for farm workers and for growers, which will ensure that America will continue to feed the world.”
LaMalfa’s fellow House Republicans were less than enthusiastic. Just 34 Republicans voted for the House measure, and only five of the 21 Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee backed the bill.
Conservatives who opposed the bill portrayed it as amnesty for people in the country illegally. The Heritage Foundation said that it would “bless the actions of aliens and agriculture employees who have ignored the law.” Others portrayed the bill as an open door to criminals.
The White House was silent on the measure and it never came to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that no bill would face a vote if Trump wouldn’t sign it.
Democrats now have a narrow majority in the Senate and a smaller majority in the House, which showed in the more narrow victory this time around, 247-174. LaMalfa was one of just 30 Republicans who voted for the measure in March, down from 34 in 2019.
Several farm groups that typically support Republicans are behind the bill, as is the United Farmworkers Union. But if the measure is going to pass the Senate, backers will have to round up at least 10 Republican votes to avoid a filibuster. Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, are sponsoring the measure in a bipartisan effort to find enough votes.
There are more than 10 Republican senators from farm states who should be in favor of the measure, but they may not want to face the wrath of Trump or conservative voters who aren’t willing to compromise on the issue.
Congressional Republicans are wasting no time slamming the Biden administration for the recent surge of immigrants on our southern border, eagerly promoting inspection tours while pretending to be concerned for women and children trapped at the border. Even Sen. Ted Cruz was spotted on the American side of the line.
The hope that Republicans are willing to carve out an exception for long-time farm workers is a fanciful one, a subtle distinction unlikely to sway conservative voters and the people who represent them.
President Joe Biden said he supports the bill, but his highest priority will be passage of a big piece of his infrastructure proposal before the mid-term elections.
LaMalfa has expressed hope for an exception, emphasizing the bill’s narrow scope and noting it only applies to the ag sector. He said in 2019 that he hopes the bill can be kept “in its own protective little bubble,” away from the fight over broader immigration policy.
This time around? LaMalfa has yet to issue a statement on the second attempt to get the bill passed. Maybe he thinks silence will enable him to have it both ways.
George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at email@example.com.
GIVEN THE track record of the Newsom administration, expect chaos when California opens vaccinations to everybody over 16…WHEN I see somebody driving alone with his mask on, I assume he wears a belt and suspenders…POLLS CLAIM people want tougher gun restrictions, but they don’t want them bad enough to punish Republicans who stand in the way of reforms…A PICTURE that I’m sure will be all over conservative media shows migrants at the border wearing T-shirts that say, “Biden Please Let Us In!” Has anybody seen Roger Stone recently?…SIDNEY POWELL, one of the Trump attorneys who tried to overturn the election results, now claims that “no reasonable person” would believe her outlandish claims were “statements of fact.” I can think of several million who did…LADY GAGA’S $500,000 reward for the return of her two stolen French bull dogs will only encourage the bad guys to target the expensive pets of prominent people…
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Before I tell you about my Darling, I want to follow up on my column from two weeks ago.