Agriculture commissioners from eight states got a close look at the unique problems facing ag producers on the Texas-Mexico border during a special tour hosted by the Texas Department of Agriculture recently.

“My goal is for them to be able to carry this message back home and discuss the border… and the need to reform our failed worker program,” Texas Agriculture Secretary Todd Staples told visiting commissioners. "The guest worker program today is very bureaucratic; participants … have to go through at least three different federal agencies, not to mention there are limits and caps on [work] visas. We need to totally revamp that system." 

Staples said the purpose of a guest worker program is to allow foreign nationals to enter the United States as temporary residents for a pre-determined period of time for employment. The agriculture industry historically has been a proponent of guest worker programs.

But the program has been a hotly debated issue in Washington in recent years over concerns of border safety issues following the growing risks of terrorist activity since 2001.

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But as lawmakers push for tighter border security, the agriculture industry has experienced increased difficulty finding enough guest workers to meet farm labor needs.

Recently, a few ag-sympathetic lawmakers have tried to amend and expand existing farm worker provisions. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that addressed border security, worker programs and citizenship, but the House failed to move forward on the bill when Republicans refused to pass it without first authorizing legislation that would address what they termed “more effective border security.”