Bipartisan support for farm labor immigration reform ran headlong into a host of Republican complaints that the southern border must first secured during a Senate Judiciary hearing Wednesday. While both Democrats and Republicans agree that the decades-old problem must be addressed and fixed, how and in what order to do that remains a point of contention. The Senate Judiciary Committee got a little heated when former Chairman and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham questioned Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

GRAHM: “Do you understand that if you give legal status to one person without first securing the border, you’re going to have a run on the border ten-times worse than you have today?” 

Vilsack: “No I don’t believe so.” 

Graham: “You don’t believe that?” 

Vilsack: “And the reason I don’t is I think the primary reason…” 

Graham “I just think that’s ludicrous.”

Mild-mannered Judiciary Chairman and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin was unswayed.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to deal with this…and if the premise is that we can’t do anything on immigration until we do everything on immigration, we’ll be right where we’ve been for 36-years—doing nothing.”

Which is where the Senate could be headed after the House in March passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act sponsored by Central Washington’s Dan Newhouse and California’s Zoe Lofgren. That legislation has received mixed reviews from the American Farm Bureau Federation and others.

Democrats are hoping to include broad immigration reform in President Biden’s social infrastructure bill later this year, but Republicans argue it’s not budget-related and want the Senate Parliamentarian to keep it out—nixing another possible avenue for farm labor reform.

If you have a story idea for the PNW Ag Network, call (509) 547-1618, or e-mail

More From PNW Ag Network