Friday, July 09, 2004

Deutsch firm on rejecting illegal workers

Deutsch firm on rejecting illegal workers
Deutsch firm on rejecting illegal workers

By Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 9, 2004

Saying illegal immigrants should be returned home "by plane or by boat," Democratic U.S. Senate contender Peter Deutsch opposes giving any kind of legal status to undocumented farmworkers.

Deutsch, a Broward County congressman since 1992, was responding to a question Wednesday from The Palm Beach Post editorial board about the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, a bill making its way through the Senate that spells out a process for illegal farmworkers to attain legal status.

He said he is against creating levels of "sub-citizenship" and believes the issue of illegal immigrants is an enforcement problem that the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be held accountable for.

"Sending people back is the law," Deutsch said. "It's a discouraging thing to say we should encourage illegal activity."

His comments drew fire Thursday from growers and advocates of the undocumented laborers they employ.

Walter Kates, labor relations director for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said it is unrealistic to think that all of the illegal farmworkers in this country can be rounded up and sent home.

He said giving migrant workers a way to attain legal status, but not citizenship, will help stop abuses in the industry and allow growers to have a more reliable source of labor.

Farmworker advocates agreed.

"Even conservative Republicans are saying we can't, and we aren't, going to deport the millions of undocumented workers who are here," said Bruce Goldstein, co-executive director of the Washington-based Farmworker Justice Fund Inc. "It's unrealistic, a pipe dream and a way of avoiding immigration issues."

Florida agriculture, a $7 billion-a-year industry, relies on an estimated 300,000 undocumented farmworkers.

"We have in agriculture a workforce estimated to be 70 percent undocumented," Craig Regelbrugge of the American Nursery & Landscape Association, said in support of the Senate bill in December. "That's problem number one: We have an illegal workforce that is feeding our nation."

The bill, introduced by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was negotiated over several years by representatives of both the farmworkers and growers and has bipartisan support in the Senate.

That means it also has bipartisan opposition.

"This whole integration issue is not Republican or Democrat. We have people from both sides in support of the bill and against it," said Kates, who said he was disappointed in Deutsch's position on illegal farmworkers, but not surprised.

Deutsch's major opponents in the Democratic primary to replace Sen. Bob Graham -- former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas -- both support the farmworker bill.

"I'm in favor of having a strong immigration policy but the flip side of that is we've been inconsistent in how we enforce it," Penelas said. "The reality is these people are here now and they are working and this is a way to incorporate them into society."

The bill targets only agricultural workers, guaranteeing them wage rates and giving them permanent residency if they follow specific standards. For example, a worker who completes 2,060 hours of agricultural labor, or 360 workdays, during a six-year period is eligible.


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