• Vermonters argue for more immigrant farmworkers
     | April 23,2013

    AP Photo Vermonter Alyson Eastman, far right, president of Book-Ends Associates of Orwell, is among those testifying Monday in Washington before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform. From left are Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, and Charles Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

    The U.S. Senate began work Monday on immigration reform with a focus on farmworkers.

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called a witness from Vermont to make the case that farmers need access to foreign workers to harvest crops and milk cows.

    Alyson Eastman is president of Book-Ends Associates in Orwell, a company that assists employers who hire workers to pick the apple crop. The program now allows only seasonal workers to enter the country legally. Eastman told the committee that it needs to be expanded to include non-seasonal workers, such as those employed on dairy farms. She said the workers pay taxes in the U.S. and need to be granted legal status.

    “The public does not seem to understand that these undocumented workers have been paying into Social Security and Medicare with the expectation that they would never benefit from it,” she said. “It seems ludicrous to me to even think about sending all of the undocumented workers home because it would significantly impact our Social Security and Medicare funding, while at the same time doing jobs that Americans don’t want to do.”

    Also testifying Monday was Megan Smith, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. Smith underscored the importance of foreign workers to the state’s resort industry.

    “Ski resorts in the winter and beach communities in the summer rely on these workers who not only prove to be excellent employees but bring a cultural experience to states that do not necessarily enjoy a great deal of diversity,” she said.

    Monday’s hearing was the start of what’s expected to be lengthy congressional debate over immigration.

    Senators on the Judiciary Committee clashed briefly over whether the alleged involvement by Russian immigrants in last week’s Boston Marathon bombing exposed weaknesses in the nation’s immigration laws.

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