Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Wednesday had a fiery exchange with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack over the crisis at the southern border and efforts to pass a farm reform bill that includes an amnesty for illegal immigrant workers, with the senator calling Vilsack’s answers “fertilizer.”
Vilsack was appearing at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the role of immigrant farmworkers, and was one of a number of speakers and lawmakers who spoke positively on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which has passed the House and includes a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers in the country illegally.
It is one of a number of legislative efforts by Democrats to pass amnesty for a variety of groups of illegal immigrants, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, where Democrats say America relied on immigrant front-line workers – many of whom are here illegally.
“Farmworkers not only deserve a path to legal status, they are vital to our economic future,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
Republicans have largely objected to such efforts, arguing not only against the effort but also in the context of the crisis at the southern border.
Cruz objected to testimony by Vilsack that root causes like poverty, food shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic are fueling the surge in migrants at the border – and that the key to solving it was promoting better opportunities in Central America.
“With all due respect, your answers on immigration were fertilizer, they were nonsense,” Cruz said.
“There are 7 billion people on Planet Earth, many of who were poor and you know what, they were poor last year and we had the lowest rate of immigration in 45 years, they’re poor this year, what’s changed is this administration refuses to enforce the law and Texas is paying the price for it,” he said.
“Poverty didn’t magically appear on January of 2021, and the pandemic didn’t magically appear on January of 2021, what appeared was Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and policies that are inhumane, that are cruel and that are failing,” he said.
Vilsack responding by asking Cruz if the border was secure in 2020, to which Cruz said it was the most secure it had been in years.
“If that’s the case, why didn’t you all pass the modernization act last year after it passed the House?” Vilsack asked. “You’re telling me we’ve got to secure the border before you pass this act.”
Cruz responded by noting that he was not among the few Republicans who have been in favor of some legislation giving pathways to citizenship in the past.
“Let me be clear, I’m not [Sen.] Lindsay Graham. I don’t support this bill,” Cruz said. “I understand there have been Democrats and Republicans who support amnesty – I ain’t one of them. So I get you want amnesty, I get that your invitation is ‘Come to America, forget the legal processes that everyone [follows] and get amnesty.'”
“I want a workforce that’s going to continue to support the greatest agriculture and food industry in the world,” Vilsack responded.
Earlier, Vilsack had been grilled by Graham, R-S.C., as well, who said that in past immigration reform efforts there were clear border security measures that came first before legalizing anyone in the country.
Graham told Vilsack that “if you give legal status to one person without first securing the border, you’re going to have a run on the border 10 times worse” than the current crisis.
“You don’t give amnesty and hope people won’t keep coming, you secure the border and then you provide legal status,” he said. “We’re doing it a– backwards.”