Immigration, the farm bill and alternative energy were among the topics members of the agricultural community asked U.S. Rep. John Delaney about on Wednesday night.
About 40 people, including Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance, attended the event held at Rinehart Orchards’ packing house, north of Smithsburg.
J.D. Rinehart, owner and operator of the orchards, said he has employed 28 legal workers from Mexico this year to help with the harvest, picking peaches and apples.
“The process to bring ... those legal workers here is a very, intensive, long-term project for me and my staff, as well as the state of Maryland and the people I know in the federal government,” he said.
Rinehart said he would like to see the visa process streamlined and a “pathway” to citizenship, with a secure border, for undocumented people in the United States who are not felons and want to be productive citizens.
Delaney, D-Md., said he was in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.
Delaney said he supports a Senate-passed immigration reform bill that he hopes will come to the House of Representatives, but he doesn’t think that will happen, and “we’ll do piecemeal immigration reform.”
There are some things he doesn’t like in the Senate bill, but Delaney said he thinks it should be supported in the House.
“I think it’s the right thing to do ... as human beings,” said Delaney, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes Washington, Allegany, and Garrett counties, and parts of Frederick and Montgomery counties.
Delaney said he supports accelerating the approval process for visas for farm workers, noting that immigration reform is smart economic policy.
“If we don’t choose immigration reform, if we don’t choose smart entitlement reform, if we don’t choose tax reform, we are choosing other things — significant, Draconian, hard cuts to other programs, including programs that affect agriculture, and programs that affect education, and programs that affect our ... national security. I mean, these are choices we have to make,” Delaney said.
Some people asked about the farm bill, which has been delayed for at least a year.
Delaney said he didn’t vote for the House farm bill because it was split, creating a separate bill for food stamps. The House passed a farm bill that didn’t include the food-stamp program, he said.
Delaney said he believes farm policy and food-stamp issues will eventually be merged on the House side, because the House and Senate are likely to send the five-year farm fill to a conference committee to reconcile differences.
Rinehart said the farm bill “is the backbone of the agriculture industry.”
In addition to food stamps, it contains crop insurance and subsidies for farmers.
The passage of the bill is important for farmers’ long-term planning, said Rinehart and Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Delaney said he can’t imagine any outcome of a Senate-House conference on the farm bill that he wouldn’t support.
Clear Spring crop and livestock farmer Steve Ernst asked Delaney what his position was on renewable fuels and coal.
Delaney said he thinks climate change is a serious issue.
“If I could do one thing to deal with climate change, I would put in place a carbon tax. ... I would tax carbon, and then I’d let the private sector figure it out,” he said.