Farm produce

Bill Cline boxes Star Fire peaches Monday in an orchard at Cline's Farm in Clear Brook, Va. (Scott Mason / Associated Press / July 22, 2013)

WASHINGTON -- Immigration legislation pending in Congress would create jobs in rural communities and increase exports of fruits, vegetables and other products, the Obama administration said Monday as it tried turn up the heat on Republican opponents of the bill.

In a White House report issued Monday, the administration made an economic case for the stalled immigration bill by emphasizing the legislation’s impact on farm towns, typically bastions of GOP support.

The bill would ease a shortage of U.S.-born farmworkers by expanding a temporary worker visa program and create a path to citizenship for farmworkers already in the country illegally, the report said.

Those changes would give growers a more stable workforce, add badly needed jobs in sparsely populated parts of the country and generate tax revenue, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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“The lack of labor will today and will in the future, if it continues, result in a decrease in agricultural production, a decrease in agricultural outputs and exports, which obviously will cost farm income and jobs in the economy,” Vilsack told reporters in a conference call. “That’s why it’s important for Congress to finish its work this year on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

The expanded visa program would create roughly 48,000 new jobs over the next seven years, the report said, relying on figures from the nonpartisan research firm Regional Economic Models Inc. California would see about 20% of that growth, or roughly 9,500 jobs, the report said. The state's 80,000 farms and ranches employ more than 380,000 people, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The figures were intended to build some momentum for a bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support but has run into solid opposition in the Republican-led House. Lawmakers are expected to leave Washington for their summer recess this week without taking action, leaving any further steps on immigration to an already crowded fall agenda.

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The White House says it will continue to try to win Republican support for the bill, in large part by appealing to traditional GOP constituencies to apply pressure. The report issued Monday noted support for the immigration overhaul from several big agriculture groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The White House said Monday that President Obama would speak on the issue in coming weeks, emphasizing the coalition forming around the bill. 

“I think that momentum is only building. And we'll see how House Republicans respond to that pressure,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey