Editor’s note: Former U.S. Representative Charlie Stenholm teaches a class on agriculture, energy, and food policy at Tarleton State University. The article below includes views and recommendations from that class, which have been “respectfully submitted to House and Senate Ag Committees.”
Congressman Stenholm explains how the class functions:
I always begin my classes at the first of the semester by electing them members of Congress. We then approach policy issues—sometimes by voting, sometimes by consensus. I try to make it as close to the way Congress should work. At least that's the way it worked when I was first elected.
I give them my opinion on issues, but assure them they will never be graded down because they differ from me, because they may be right. Which usually gets a look of disbelief. But they soon learn that you can believe you are right, but if you can't persuade a majority of your classmates it just does not happen. The work on immigration is a good example.
Overall, I try to share with them my 26 years in Congress and make it applicable to today's ag and energy challenges. I enjoy my classes greatly because I learn something every Monday night. I see some great future leaders/teachers being developed every day at Tarleton State University and many other Universities. FFA and 4H are doing their part, too. But there is so much more to be done for the future to make sure every American knows where and how their food and energy are produced. Our education and political system must adapt to meet the challenges or suffer the consequences.
Compromise is not a four letter word. The one thing we need the most right now in our political system is to eliminate gerrymandering. Every State should copy the Iowa System. I hope the Supreme Court makes the necessary changes. Stop redistricting by party, race, creed, or color. Do as Iowa and draw your lines by communities of interest and have every district in America vote like my classes do. Even though I get out voted sometimes, I can and do accept it until I can change them or join them.
Some 43 million foreign born immigrants currently live in the U.S. (9.5 to 11 million are estimated as undocumented). That must change. In our opinion, rounding them up, locking them up, and deporting all of them is not a feasible or desirable option. For most, their only crime was seeking a better place to live and earn a living.
We agree that they broke a law and should pay the appropriate penalty. But what is appropriate? For some the penalty should be minimal. We are a nation of laws and want to remain so. We believe that employers who have benefited must be co-defendants in determining the appropriate penalty—as well as Congress for not clarifying the law that we want enforced.
An open border is certainly not feasible. America cannot accept ALL who want to come. The Canadian system warrants a careful study to see if it offers workable solutions for the U.S. We are currently admitting a million immigrants a year. For the next several years that number should be lowered to 500,000 (which will include refugees) until a higher number can be justified by Congress.
REFORM TO INCLUDE PATH TO LEGAL STATUS
Reform must include a workable plan to encourage most of the undocumented to come forward voluntarily (with their employer or sponsor) to receive legal documents that will allow them to become legal immigrants. They or their sponsor must pay the appropriate fine or other punishment applicable as determined by Congress. Those who have broken other laws or do not come forward should be deported. Changes proposed by the current Administration on H1B visas are an important step in the right direction. A workable immigration policy for the future must have the buy-in of employers and an absolute enforcement mechanism with buy-in of We the People. Only Congress can provide that.
Securing our border is a must. A wall is not a viable option; with our budget challenges, spending money we have to borrow, on something that will not work, makes no sense! “Good fences make good neighbors.” Building a fence your neighbor does not want, with money you do not have, and insisting he pay for it does not work well in the real world. Working with your neighbor always creates a better neighborhood. There is so much to gain in the North American neighborhood.
All citizens, immigrants, students, tourists etc. in the future must have proper identification in their possession at all times to be presented when asked by law enforcement. Technology offers the means, and Congress must provide the way. No sanctuary cities. All cities must be equally diligent in support of our immigration laws, which Congress must clarify.
The amount of time between application for visa and receipt of document must be shortened. Again, technology offers the means and Congress the way. Tracking all immigrants in today's world is a must. Again technology offers the solution.
RURAL COMMUNITIES NEED A SOLUTION
A Solution for Rural Communities can become the impetus for all America.
Speaking specifically for farmers and ranchers and those who work for them, it is apparent something new and innovative is needed. A reliable supply of needed workers is critical for our food production system. We suggest this might be facilitated by utilizing the current Farm Service Agency (FSA) system with the county-elected committee system to maintain community (farmers and workers) buy in, and local control. Those currently working in an agricultural job, presumably, would have their current employer recommend them for a legal visa to stay and become a legal immigrant after paying the recommended penalty (as determined by Congress). Employment opportunities for reliable citizens (definition to be provided by Congress) should take preference over future immigrants. Reliable labor is important for all industries, but it is critical for agriculture. Crops do not wait for anyone, and cows have to be milked at least twice a day.
Regarding wages and salaries, we like the Henry Ford model A and T approach. He wanted the workers making his cars to be able to afford to own one. The same justification for subsidizing any business must be equally applied to the worker. Keeping in mind that the market, (which is now a world market, and that will not change regardless of what some might want), will be the ultimate decider of prices and wages. A simple pure free market has never worked. Nor will mandated wages that ignore competitive pressures.
Even Walmart has begun to recognize that the pursuit of always-the lowest price (wage) has practical economic, human limits, that must be the shared goal of employer and employee in a competitive world market to preserve, protect, and create American jobs.
We believe that in Rural America the County Elected Committee system, working through a modified Farm Service Agency office system could be an implementer of this new system (that would supply both permanent and seasonal workers) that would be welcomed by the producer as well as his employee. There is no reason that we can determine that the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, State, Commerce, and Agriculture cannot work together to implement this program with minimal cost and maximum efficiency, with USDA leading and setting the example for all other industries and their workers.
We respectfully ask for your consideration of these thoughts and suggestions. We acknowledge that the needed comprehensive immigration reform has many important parts that must all be addressed. But perhaps starting with our food production system (food is rather important to all) a solution for all might be found.
Using regular order, sub-committee hearings and markup, full committee hearings and markup, House and Senate floor action, a conferenced bill sent to the President for eventual inclusion in the 2018 Farm and Food Bill (food cannot be produced without labor) or Comprehensive Immigration Reform (or preferably both) would demonstrate how our forefathers intended the Congress to function for our mutual benefit.
Compromise is not a four letter word. Our Constitution would never have been ratified were it not for the willingness of strong willed men to compromise. The future of America depends on our current Congressmen, Congresswomen, Senators, and President to do the same.
It is important to remember that it took 116 days to draft the Constitution—May 25, 1787 to September 17, 1787. Even after the addition of the Bill of Rights, 36 percent of the people were opposed to its ratification.
SECURING OUR BORDERS IS A MUST
1. Immigrants are essential to our Country
2. They must be legally in America
3. Our laws must be adapted and enforced
4. No wall between neighbors
5. No sanctuary cities
6. Agriculture producers and workers should set example
7. Congressional leadership is REQUIRED. Solution must be non-partisan
8. Comprehensive Immigration Reform should be signed by the President on
September 17, 2017—116 days from May 25, 2017