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Wisconsin farmers watching Congressional action on farm bill

WASHINGTON D.C. (WTAQ) - Wisconsin farmers will keep a close eye on Washington as Congress returns to session this week.

Farm leaders hope the Republican-controlled House will follow the Senate’s lead, and pass immigration reform that provides more lenient and less complicated rules for hiring workers.

Rural Wisconsin is also looking for action on a proposed five-year farm bill, which the House rejected last month despite a call for support from Speaker John Boehner. Republican members will meet privately on Wednesday to map out their strategy. 

On the Farm Bill, House conservatives demanded deeper cuts in food stamps than the $2 billion they rejected.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid says a second one-year extension of the 2008 farm package is unlikely – thus leaving the next move up to Boehner.

On immigration, Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner is among many in the GOP who oppose any pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.

However, farm groups say they need an easier way to keep their immigrant workers in the fields.

A 2008 UW survey showed that over 40 percent of hired Wisconsin farm workers are immigrants.

Under the Senate bill, experienced farm workers could get “blue cards” for year-round residency. Those found to have entered illegally would have to pay fines and back taxes, and get background checks.

Another provision allows foreign guest workers with visas lasting three years. Unlike the large Senate package, House Republicans have talked about passing provisions separately.