Finally, Kern County is getting the kind of leadership in the immigration debate it has so patiently waited for. Finally, our congressman has loosed the shackles of political caution and voted on the side of economic reality. Although, owing to his otherwise conservative nature, he's not the type of guy to throw around words like compassion or social justice, our man in Washington has in effect addressed those too. He has made his position clear: immigration reform is inevitable and overdue.
No, not Kevin McCarthy. We have yet to see our Bakersfield-based representative say anything that strays from the Republican talking points about hermetically sealing the border. He has yet to stake out a pragmatic vision because, as majority whip, his job is to corral tea party loyalists, not strategize or set policy.
No, we refer here to David Valadao of Hanford, whose 21st Congressional District swoops into Kern County from the north. As a first-term back bencher, Valadao has every reason to go with the flow, vote with the conservative consensus and otherwise keep his mouth shut. On some matters, he has no doubt done that. But on immigration, he has seen the hypocrisy of an economic model than relies on immigrants, many of them undocumented, set against the background of a social construct that distrusts and misunderstands them.
When Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa., recently introduced a poison-pill amendment to the immigration bill that took away all discretion from the Department of Homeland Security on matters of deportation, including an end to all deferrals in the deportation process that favors "dreamers," every Republican on the Homeland Security Subcommittee supported it. Except one -- Valadao.
McCarthy's constituents are substantially the same ones as Valadao's. Farming is big, and so is reliance on the immigrant workers who make it go. Many farmers already complain that they are having trouble hiring enough employees to pick their crops. As a consequence, wages have increased and cultivation maintenance practices like thinning have been cut back in favor of more urgent matters, namely the harvest.
Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League, told the industry weekly Ag Alert last week he was seeing a "continuing trend of a tightening supply of labor" for fruit crops.
"We keep hearing of people saying, 'We wanted X people in a crew and we only ended up with Y,'" Bedwell said.
It's actually starting to get a bit silly.
One would think that McCarthy would leap to the aid of the farmers in his district, but as the No. 3 man in the GOP's House leadership team, his job is primarily party politics and caucus appeasement. Perhaps, then, he should consider the political consequences of further alienating the fastest-growing voting bloc in America. Failure to act on immigration hurt Republicans in 2012, and it will hurt them again in due course, unless they agree to meaningful action, and soon.
One southern valley Republican, at least, seems to get that. Where's the other one? Perhaps tending to his A rating from the anti-amnesty group Americans for Legal Immigration.