“Mr. Secretary, if we were having a hearing on the optimum fertilizer for growing corn, I think you might be a very good witness,” Cruz said.
“And with all due respect your answers on immigration were fertilizer,” he added.
Vilsack defended the immigration portions of the proposed legislation, known as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, pushing back against claims that a process allowing farmworkers to apply for U.S. citizenship after paying a $1,000 penalty fee is “amnesty.”
He also challenged Republicans’ position that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants cannot come without heightened border security measures.
After Cruz described the border last year under former President Donald Trump as “the most secure it’d been in 45 years,” Vilsack hit back: “If that’s the case, then why didn’t you all pass the Modernization Act last year after it passed the House?”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., chairman of the committee’s immigration panel, noted Vilsack serves as secretary of Agriculture, not of Homeland Security, and said he would “focus my questions appropriately, so on issues of agriculture and agricultural industry.”
The debate over citizenship for migrant farmworkers comes just days after a federal judge ruled that the Obama-administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, is illegal.