YUMA - Farming groups in Yuma have enlisted Rep. Raúl Grijalva to push for a special guest-worker program they are proposing for the winter vegetable season.
The pilot program would exempt local employers from a requirement to provide housing for Mexicans who hold special visas issued when farmers can't find enough workers in the U.S.
That is something local agriculture employers have been seeking for years, said Sonny Rodriguez, president of The Growers Company, a farm labor contractor.
If approved, it would make it easier and less expensive for agriculture employers in the area to hire workers who live in Mexico and cross the border each morning to work in the vegetable fields and coolers. Many prefer to go home each night, and farm contractors often bus them from the border to the fields and back again each day.
Grijalva said he hopes to persuade the Department of Labor to approve the program as an administrative act. That's because any congressional action is considered impossible because of the impasse on immigration.
The Yuma Sun reported that the proposal developed by farming and labor groups would apply only to the Yuma area. The current visa program requires employers to apply for guest workers 45 days before the harvest season begins, and labor needs spike in mid-November. They must have housing in place two months before they need the workers.
The problem is that many laborers who work Yuma-area fields want to return home each night and don't need housing.
Grijalva is trying to set up meetings with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to urge her to put the trial program in place for the rapidly approaching produce season.
"Hopefully, the delegation of folk from the rural community will go to D.C. and talk to her about the possibility of a commuter program for those workers that live in San Luis, Mexico, but come every day to work over here during the season," Grijalva said last week while in Yuma.
"The Western Growers Association really brought this idea, and we're trying to follow up with it," Grijalva added. "I think it's fair."
Rodriguez commended the congressman for his efforts.
"He's been our champion on this," Rodriguez said of Grijalva.
"It's still a concept. We're still waiting to see if Secretary Solis will consider it, but Grijalva has been working hard to get an appointment."
At least several thousand seasonal workers already enter the U.S. each day during harvest season at San Luis.