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Merkley answers questions

DALLAS -- U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's town hall meeting in Dallas Friday was peppered with questions concerning immigration, especially related to farm labor, gun control and federal safety net programs.

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

January 15, 2013

DALLAS -- U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's town hall meeting in Dallas Friday was peppered with questions concerning immigration, especially related to farm labor, gun control and federal safety net programs.

Pat Wildman, the co-owner of Wildman Farms in Dallas, was one of the about 85 who attended the town hall at the Col. James Nesmith Readiness Center.

She said her farm's regular labor contractor couldn't put together crews because workers trying to enter the country through legal channels were not allowed to cross the border.

"We use migrant and local labor to harvest our cherries," she said. "We run a good two weeks with a crew of 60. They could not put it together this year."

She also expressed concern about family members under the age of 16 not being able to work on the family farm. Wildman said the business wasn't able to harvest the whole crop this year and was concerned for future years.

"I think there is a very good chance that Congress is going to have a major immigration conversation this year," Merkley said in response. "There are people on both sides of the aisle on key committees who seem to be ready to tackle that again."

He said legislation would likely address temporary work permits and employer compliance issues.

When asked about his stand on proposals to enact more gun control after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Merkley said he would examine each proposal carefully, "one for its consistency with the Second Amendment and ... if it has a real-life impact on the problem we are trying to address.

"I haven't advocated for any particular approach because what I want to see is the answer to those two questions," Merkley said.

Another attendee asked why cuts to Social Security were being considered by lawmakers when the program was funded by payroll taxes.

"Why are we so readily talking about cutting benefits for the poor while making such a strong case for not cutting benefits for the rich?" she asked.

Merkley said the Social Security Trust Fund will be solvent for the next 25 years, but changes could be made to improve that, perhaps pushing it to 75 years. He said raising the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax (about $110,000) could extend its solvency.

"Small changes now make a bigger difference than small changes down the road," Merkley said. "So we should ponder how to reach that 75-year standard."

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