Farm Bill Fail: a Lesson on Immigration and Agriculture

By Nicole Sugerman

The work of sustainable agriculture and nutrition advocates was critical in making sure the House Farm Bill, widely criticized by sustainable farm and food advocates due to its deep cuts to SNAP, local foods, conservation programs and more, did not have the votes it needed to pass. We should all be proud! However, the Farm Bill failed for another reason, too- because of a Republican inter-party fighting over immigration. A group of moderate Republicans tried to use a ‘discharge petition’ to circumvent party leadership and force a vote on two immigration proposals, one of which is supported by a majority of Republicans, and another, still being negotiated, which could pass with bipartisan support. To avoid this, the far-right Freedom Caucus sought to use the Farm Bill as collateral to force a vote on the former proposal, a bill introduced by Goodlatte (R-VA) that has been widely denounced as anti-immigrant, anti-worker, and inhumane.

Some of the coverage I’ve read has framed the situation as one in which the Farm Bill was used as a bargaining chip in a fight over an “unrelated issue.” This is untrue- immigration and agriculture are very interconnected. The dynamics around the House Farm Bill vote made me think about the limits of my own advocacy. Why was I not following and advocating around the immigration issue as much as I was the Farm Bill? Why have some of us in the food movement missed the opportunity to connect immigration and the Farm Bill in our framing and communications?

This year, NESAWG’s policy program has focused almost exclusively on efforts to influence the Farm Bill, as one of the biggest and most far-reaching pieces of federal agriculture policy. Obviously, one only has so much time in the day, and the bill is undoubtedly worth the attention-- but the focus may marginalize other policy issues which are deeply linked to agriculture, but are not as represented within the bundle of policies that comprise the Farm Bill. Immigration, as it relates to agriculture, is one such issue, and I need to remind myself as a policy organizer to keep my field of vision wide and my analysis intersectional so I keep a focus on current issues that are outside of the Farm Bill’s range, but well within the scope of what we need to build an equitable, humane, and just food system.

To dive into the intersections between immigration and agriculture, here’s what I’m reading this month:

For an in-depth look at the politics behind the House Farm Bill’s Failure:

Where do immigrant/workers rights show up in the Farm Bill?

And protections, or lack thereof, for agricultural workers elsewhere in federal policy:

A few looks from within the past year at how immigration restrictions and crackdowns have hurt farmers:

*Have ideas for resources or issues I should include in this roundup or analysis? Please reach out: nicole@nesawg.org

Photo by Peg Hunter