Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Several members of Trump's agriculture committee have supported legal status for undocumented workers

By Jose A. DelReal

August 16, 2016 at 12:31 PM

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Aug. 11 in Kissimmee, Fla. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Donald Trump's agriculture advisory committee includes members who have advocated for comprehensive immigration reform that would give unauthorized workers a path to legal status, a position that runs counter to Trump's call for the mass deportation of undocumented  immigrants.

Immigrant labor is a bedrock of the agriculture industry in the United States, many members of the newly formed committee have argued, and a shortage in the already scant agriculture labor pool would raise consumer prices.

The 64-person committee will meet regularly, according to the campaign, and advise the GOP presidential nominee on food production issues. The agriculture industry is at the center of the debate over immigration reform and depends heavily on Latin American immigrant labor to meet production demands.

Related: [Fact-checking Donald Trump’s ‘major’ speech on the Islamic State]

The committee includes several high-profile politicians and governors, including Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota. Former governors and presidential candidates Rick Perry of Texas and Jim Gilmore of Virginia are also on the committee.

Several current and former executives for large food companies are also on the list. That group includes Bob Goodale, the former chief executive of Harris Teeter and Fair Oaks Farms dairy chief executive Mike McCloskey.

"The members of my agricultural advisory committee represent the best that America can offer to help serve agricultural communities," Trump said in a statement. "Many of these officials have been elected by their communities to solve the issues that impact our rural areas every day."

Related: [Trump proposes ideological test for Muslim immigrants and visitors to the U.S.]

But several of those listed seem to be opposed to Trump's calls for mass deportation and strongly supported the comprehensive immigration reform package passed by the Senate in 2013. Trump has blasted the bill, which stalled in the House, and has characterized it as detrimental to U.S. workers.

"When politicians talk about 'immigration reform' they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders," Trump's website says about the bill. "The Schumer-Rubio immigration bill was nothing more than a giveaway to the corporate patrons who run both parties."

Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers trade group, has advocated for passing comprehensive immigration reform, calling it crucial to addressing a labor shortage in the agriculture industry.

Mike McCloskey, who worked on immigration issues with the National Milk Producers Federation, has said that cracking down immigrant labor would hurt the industry. The group has taken a strong position in favor of immigration reform that would help sustain the immigrant labor pool, warning that cutting workers from that pool would hurt U.S. consumers.

Related: [Many questions and few answers about how Melania Trump immigrated to the U.S.]

Also on the committee are Chuck Conner, the chief executive of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and Steve Foglesong, a former president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The farmers' council has advocated giving undocumented immigrants who work in the agriculture industry permanent legal status. The cattlemen's association has promoted strengthening border security but also giving undocumented workers path to a legal status.

Trump's calls to deport millions of undocumented workers in the United States have been central to his candidacy, which he has framed as a necessary step to protect national security. He has suggested that a "deportation force" would be dispatched to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants have riled Hispanic voters and activists, who have accused him of bigotry. In a foreign policy address Monday in Ohio, Trump spoke at length about immigration but focused on his plan to limit immigration from countries in the Middle East, an extension of his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.


Jose DelReal is a national correspondent covering America's rural-urban divide, the USDA, and HUD. During the 2016 presidential election, he traveled to over 40 states while chronicling Donald Trump's astonishing political rise. Jose grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and graduated from Harvard College. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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