The debate over immigration and border policies continues to be a point of contention in Washington. With a renewed push by the GOP to address illegal border crossings, and the White House emphasizing the need to allocate more than $13 billion to manage the increase of migrants into the U.S., the topic as at the forefront of policy discussion once again. However, ag economists are still skeptical immigration reform will finally see movement in Washington.
In the October Ag Economists’ Monthly Monitor, a survey of nearly 70 ag economists from across the U.S., economists were asked if they expected to see any movement on immigration reform in 2024. Nearly 83% of respondents said no. Just over 8% said yes, with the remaining economists, or just over 8%, unsure about the outcome in 2024.
Of the overwhelming number of economists who said they don’t think Congress will move on immigration reform in 2024, the reasons included:
- Election year in 2024 will stall potential legislation, although it might be a focus during campaigns.
- Political gridlock and competing priorities make a bipartisan solution unlikely, especially with a sensitive issue like immigration reform.
The biggest hurdle, according to respondents, is the fact it’s an election year, as well as how controversial the issue is. One economist even called it “politically unpopular.”
“Congress has a vested interest in keeping this issue unresolved in the current partisan environment,” responded an economist in the latest survey.
Another economist said, “Getting anything started and passed in an election year will be tough, let alone something as confrontational as immigration.”
A different economist in the October survey said immigration reform won’t happen because, “Too many other issues to happen first. Congress and the administration are too far apart to find an acceptable resolution. Legislators don’t have the fortitude to address it.”
However, one economist who thinks Congress may address immigration reform in 2024 said their response is due to the fact that “Right to Shelter will be rescinded in certain major cities that have reached the breaking point.”
It’s evident immigration reform is a major issue for agriculture. One economist said, “Immigration reform is a huge issue for the U.S. economy and MUST be addressed. However, it is so politically sensitive that very few Senators or Congressmen are willing to push the issue.”
Ag Labor Void
The survey also asked economists if they thought U.S. agriculture will be able to utilize the influx of immigrants at the southern border to fill the void in ag labor. While the feedback was mixed, most were not confident due to mismatched skills and what they called ‘noise’ in the system. Other economists indicated that some of that labor could possibly be used, particularly for specialty crops like fruits and vegetables.
“The ‘immigration problem’ at the Mexican border is a humanitarian problem, as well as an immigration issue,” said one economist. “Many of the new immigrants entering at the Mexican border are being moved to the East or West Coast. It will be hard for ag to access this potential workforce.”
What Will It Take for Congress to Take Action on Immigration Reform?
As the issue continues to draw criticism and debate, economists were asked: what’s the one thing that would need to happen in order for Congress to take action on immigration reform in the next couple of years? While sentiments were largely pessimistic on any action, some economists think increased pressure from labor markets could prompt Congress to take action.
One economist said “cooler minds” is what it would take for Congress to find compromise.
“A perceived crisis where both parties can agree on a solution. In other words, a very unlikely situation,” said another economist.
Another economist said, “Elect smart people.” While one economist in the anonymous survey said, “One part would need to gain total control.”
Another economist thinks the only way to find a solution is to, “Separate ag labor from broader immigration discussion.”
A Bipartisan Issue?
According to Farm Journal Washington correspondent Jim Wiesemeyer, Republicans are currently pushing for changes in immigration policies aimed at deterring illegal border crossings. He says they want to address border security issues and make it more difficult for migrants to enter the U.S. without proper documentation.
At the same time, Wiesemeyer reports Democrats, including President Joe Biden, emphasize the need to allocate $13.6 billion to manage the increasing number of migrant arrivals. They argue that this funding is essential to address the current challenges at the border.
“The debate over immigration is causing tensions in Congress, particularly as it relates to funding for Ukraine and other foreign aid initiatives. There is a risk that disagreements over immigration policies could lead to delays or the derailment of government spending and aid packages,” reports Wiesemeyer.
He also points out that Democrats are facing pressure to compromise on immigration, with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) pledging to link a substantial border package to aid for Ukraine. He says Senate Republicans are also seeking to incorporate policy changes in an emergency funding discussion with some Republicans advocating for bipartisan efforts to address border security.
“They are proposing changes to asylum policies, including raising the bar for ‘credible fear’ claims and reinstating the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy for asylum-seekers,” says Wiesemeyer.
He also reports key Democrats are opposed to Republican demands on immigration policy changes, as they doubt the possibility of reaching a workable middle ground during time-sensitive funding negotiations. But some Democratic lawmakers, such as Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), express a willingness to address border security issues but reject “draconian” policy ideas that could harm migrants. They seek more humane solutions.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) urged colleagues to focus on measures that already have bipartisan support, such as increasing the number of border patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers, which align with President Biden’s request. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) indicated a willingness to consider any bipartisan border proposal put forward by the Senate.