Calling it “an important first step,” the California Farm Bureau Federation welcomed Thursday’s introduction in Congress of new legislation to provide legal status to immigrant farm employees in the United States.
The Agricultural Worker Program Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, would grant legal “blue card” status to immigrants who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days during the previous two years.
CFBF President Jamie Johansson said the bill addresses a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform.
“We’re encouraged by the bill’s introduction in both chambers and appreciate the leadership of our California legislators to begin tackling this issue at the beginning of the new Congress,” Johansson said. “Farm employees and farmers need legislation that addresses legal status for employees and their immediate family members who are in the country now.
“Though this legislation is an important first step, CFBF supports comprehensive immigration reform that would allow future employees to migrate more easily to and from their home country, as well as to move from farm to farm for employment,” he said.
“We encourage Congress to address the broader needs of farmers and their employees through comprehensive immigration reform,” Johansson said.
The legislation is also supported by the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation and Farmworker Justice.
How it works
Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years may earn “blue card” status that allows them to continue to legally work in the Unites States. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three years or five years—depending on hours worked in agriculture—would be eligible to adjust to lawful permanent residence (green card).
Agriculture is a $47 billion industry in California, and U.C. Davis estimates that up to 60 percent of California’s 421,000 farmworkers—approximately 253,000 people—are undocumented. Under the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement guidelines, undocumented farmworkers are all priorities for deportation.
“Farmers throughout California struggle mightily to find workers, and we all know that backbreaking farm labor is performed largely by undocumented immigrants,” said Senator Feinstein. “By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill would ensure that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and that California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to succeed. Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are a priority for deportation under the Trump administration’s policies. We must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”
In addition to Senator Feinstein, the Senate bill is cosponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
In addition to Lofgren, the House bill is cosponsored by Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), T.J. Cox (D-Calif.), Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Anna E. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Jimmy Gomez (D- Calif.), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Katie Hill (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Al Lawson (D-Fla.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Doris O. Matsui (D-Calif.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Vi.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Janet Napolitano (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), David Price (D-N.C.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Norma Torres (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), and John Yarmuth (D- Ky.).
“Farmworker communities across the country are living and working in fear and uncertainty due to President Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant enforcement and deportation agenda,” said Representative Lofgren. “Addressing this crisis and allowing existing farmworkers and their families to earn legal immigration status and permanent residence is critically important to our nation’s food and agriculture system. With this legislation, farmworkers will be able to improve their wages and working conditions, resulting in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of American employers, workers, and consumers.”
“California’s agriculture economy relies on immigrant laborers, many of whom are undocumented and work for hours every day in harsh conditions to help put food on the tables of the American people,” said Senator Harris.“Protecting undocumented farm workers from deportation and giving them a pathway to citizenship will do much to improve their working conditions and bring people out of the shadows. It’s the smart thing to do and the right thing to do.”
“Across our country, including the many dairy farms of Vermont, foreign workers support agriculture and help put food on our tables,” said Senator Leahy. “It is past time we show our support for them and our understanding of the challenges that farmers and workers face in doing the hard work of dairy farming. Our bill would allow these workers to come out of the shadows and contribute to their farms and communities without fear of arrest. The current system has long been broken, and it needs to be fixed. I am proud to support this solution and to continue the work of achieving these reforms.”
“Oregon farmers depend on hardworking migrant farmworkers who are not only critical to our economy, but also an important thread in the fabric of our state,” said Senator Wyden. “These workers shouldn’t have to live in fear. With the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrant communities, the need for Congress to protect farmworkers from senseless deportation is more pressing than ever.”
“Undocumented farmworkers who pick, grow, and cultivate the food that millions of Americans eat everyday should not have to live in the shadows,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This bill lifts everyone up by protecting migrant families in our rural communities from deportation, boosting efforts to enforce labor protections for all farmworkers, and making it easier for employers to comply with the law. This is a necessary step in the direction of comprehensive immigration reform, a priority Congress must urgently address.”
“Immigrant farmworkers are not only the backbone of our nation’s agriculture industry, they and their families are the heart and soul of many rural communities, like mine on the central coast of California. They plant and harvest the food that goes on our dinner tables and enrich the social, cultural, and historical fabric of our society. This bill provides these men and women with a way to earn their citizenship by contributing to our agriculture and our communities,” said Representative Panetta. “It is well past time to address our nation’s severe labor shortage and its impact on our agriculture industry. As the representative of the Salad Bowl of the World, I am proud to introduce this bill, which is a critical step forward for both our farmers and farmworkers and for our efforts to finally reform our broken immigration system.”
“Central Coast agriculture producers have lost over $13 million in crops in past years due to a shortage of farmworkers,” said Representative Carbajal. “I joined my father picking strawberries and cucumbers during summers off from high school. It's difficult work with few benefits and little pay, but he did it to build a better life for our family. This bill provides farmers with reliable labor and gives farmworkers an opportunity to come out of shadows. We owe at least this to the hardworking men and women who help us put food on the table.”
“The 21st District is the most agriculturally productive district in California – our farmworkers are the heart and soul of our community,” said Representative TJ Cox. “Our farmworkers deserve to live and work with stability and without fear of arbitrary raids and deportation. Between the trade war, government shutdown, and repressive immigration system, the Central Valley’s agriculture industry has been under attack by the Trump Administration since the day he took office. This legislation is critical to protecting the Central Valley’s workers and economy.”
Source: California Farm Bureau Federation, Office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.