Agriculture and farmworker advocates in the central San Joaquin Valley are launching a letter-writing campaign and participating in rallies as they push to get immigration reform passed in Congress before the end of the year.
The legislative effort that provides a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has drawn support from both the United Farm Workers union and agricultural organizations.
The Senate passed a immigration reform package in June, but a similar effort has stalled in the House of Representatives. Supporters were hoping the deal could be done and signed by the president before the end of the year, but that could be a challenge as Congress is also wrestling with the government shutdown and battle over the budget.
"We don't need any more excuses," said Arturo Rodriguez, UFW president. "We need a vote today, not tomorrow."
Rodriguez and Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, came together on Friday to announce letter writing aimed at Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, saying he plays a critical role in getting the measure passed in the House.
"If a vote were taken, we would be successful in winning immigration reform in the House," Rodriguez.
Supporters promise to collect more than 10,000 letters and deliver them to McCarthy, the No.3 House Republican leader.
"We have one of our great congressman, who has a leadership role, that can help guide this through," Cunha said. "He needs to be in front of this and get it done."
McCarthy issued a statement Friday, saying: "Rather than take up the legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken immigration system. We must secure our borders as a first step in developing a long-term, realistic and enforceable solution."
Tighter border enforcement has contributed to a drop in undocumented workers from Mexico, a longtime source of labor for the nation's agriculture industry.
Growers have reported worker shortages in the last two years.
Cunha and Rodriguez say that without immigration reform, California's $43 billion agriculture industry could suffer if they have to deal with the uncertainty over labor for another year.
Agriculture officials estimate that a majority of the state's farmworkers are undocumented and their numbers have been dwindling.
"Employers need a stable work force," Rodriguez said.
Along with letter writing, supporters are planning a series of rallies across the country urging Congress to pass immigration reform.
Fresno is hoping for 500 participants at Fresno County Courthouse Park at 10:30 a.m. today. Expected are elected officials, religious leaders, business owners and relatives of undocumented residents.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, email@example.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.