When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was governor of Georgia, he enacted one of the harshest immigration laws in the nation.
The crackdown on undocumented immigrants worked so well to drive them from the state that Georgia farmers had nobody to pick their crops come harvest. Fruits and vegetables rotted in fields and farmers lost millions.
But on his first visit to California since joining the Trump administration, Perdue indicated a different approach to immigration.
In meetings with Central Valley congressmen and farmers, Perdue heard about growing difficulties finding enough workers to harvest crops. He said part of the answer is a new guestworker program, but that’s not enough.
Perdue pointed to Rep. Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) Agricultural Guestworker Act, saying, "It really doesn’t address the real needs of California farmers because many of these undocumented workers have been here for years and they’ve become part of the operation, sometimes farm managers, and they don’t really have a home to go back to right now."
Under Perdue’s leadership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking part in a task force working on rural issues, including immigration policies that affect agriculture.
"We have to address this transition area at some point," he said. "Not that they want citizenship necessarily; they want legal status."
Perdue also had some words of comfort for farmers worried about President Trump’s threats to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA.
"I think there may be some bumpy anxious moments in between, but I believe the president is absolutely committed to getting the best NAFTA deal for the United States as well as our other trade partners."
Perdue held a town hall in Modesto on Sunday and met with Democratic Reps. Jimmy Panetta and Jim Costa. On Monday, he sat down with Republican Rep. David Valadao and a small group of farmers in the town of Arvin, south of Bakersfield.