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Produce industry re-thinks GOP contributions over immigration reform

WASHINGTON — Produce companies are getting so frustrated over congressional inaction on immigration reform that they may be rethinking plans to contribute to Republican campaigns.

Agriculture groups are beginning to loudly criticize House Republicans for not moving on immigration reform at a time when the opportunity for legislation appears to be slipping away.

Earlier this year, groups said they were hoping by this summer to get a bill on the House floor after last year's elections spurred hope the House would take up the issue. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in a bipartisan vote last year, but any momentum in the House appears to have stalled.

Western Growers Association said its members may withhold contributions in congressional races if candidates are against comprehensive immigration overhaul, according to a New York Times story published March 30.

Tom Nassif, president of WGA, told the Times reporter, "I can tell you, if the Republicans don't put something forward on immigration, there is going to be a very loud hue and cry from us in agriculture. We are a tremendously important part of the party, and they should not want to lose us."

Western Growers is not the only group taking a hard look at immigration reform as a litmus test.

"We've heard over and over from House Republicans what they're not going to do. We want to hear what they are going to do," Lisa Lochridge, public affairs director for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, told The Produce News.

"In the meantime, FFVA sees no rationale for financially supporting candidates who are not only not supporting us but are working against us," she said. "It just doesn't make any sense. Why would we support them?"

Lochridge said growers do see eye-to-eye with House Republicans on many other issues.

"But this is the singular pivotal issue before us right now, and we're just not going to support candidates who aren't willing to consider a workable solution for agriculture," she said.

The issue is also likely to surface at a United Fresh Produce Association meeting next week. The group's Government Relations Council is scheduled to take up immigration reform at its meeting in Washington, DC.

"We are very aware of only supporting candidates that support us," said Robert Guenther, United Fresh's senior vice president for public policy. Regardless of whether the candidate is a Republican or Democrat, "we will NOT support people who oppose us on immigration reform," he said. "This has been our practice since last fall and we continue to hold firm on that."