President Barack Obama's agriculture secretary won't say whether a guest worker program for agriculture will be part of the immigration reform bill the administration will push in Congress. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with the editorial board of the Fresno Bee on Tuesday, but ducked a question about supporting a guest worker program, according to a political blog in the newspaper that serves California's San Joaquin Valley.
"During an appearance before The Fresno Bee's editorial board Tuesday afternoon, Vilsack said President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform solution," reports The Bee's Opinion Talk blog. "But he said the administration is not ready to discuss specific details of the proposal."
It is widely expected that the Democrats will introduce an immigration reform bill in Congress in the fall. But Vilsack told The Bee that the president's priorities right now are health care reform and climate change.
Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, is learning about California agriculture, which far exceeds farm output in his home state. Vilsack will make a tour of San Joaquin Valley farm areas Wednesday morning and then hold a agricultural town hall in Modesto in the afternoon. He has held almost two dozen town halls, but the sessions don't get nearly as spirited as the health care town halls.
California is in the third year of a drought and agriculture also is being challenged by a lack of water from environmental laws and court rulings. Vilsack is being asked to help with drouhgt relief. But water delivery issues come under te jurisdiction of the Interior Department.
Vilsack is also meeting with dairy farmers whose industry is in turmoil. "Dairies are in trouble here and nationally because milk prices are very low and production costs have skyrocketed," The Bee reported. "Vilsack's Agriculture Department has given dairy farmers some relief by increasing the price the government pays for milk and cheddar cheese through a temporary dairy price-support program."