Ag Policy Blog

Democrats Introduce Bill to Shield Farmworkers from Deportation

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
An overhead view of field workers in DTN file photo by Jim Patrico

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., on Thursday introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path toward earned legal status and eventual citizenship.

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), Feinstein and Lofgren said in a news release.

“Agriculture is a $47 billion industry in California, and U.C. [the University of California] Davis estimates that up to 60 percent of California’s 421,000 farmworkers — approximately 253,000 people are undocumented,” they added.

“Under the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement guidelines, undocumented farmworkers are all priorities for deportation.”

Feinstein and Lofgren included long lists of Democratic senators and House members who endorse the bill.

The Agricultural Worker Protection Act is also supported by the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation and Farmworker Justice, they noted.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents fruit, vegetable and tree nut growers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, did not formally endorse the bill but welcomed their efforts.

“We recognize and applaud the efforts of Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Lofgren, as well as many other members of the House and Senate, to address the acute labor shortage that plagues production agriculture,” Nassif said in a news release.

“Farm labor is incredibly challenging work that most native-born Americans are not interested in pursuing so we have long relied upon a skilled workforce who are new migrants to our country as well as guest workers.

“Solving the immigration crisis is a priority and necessity for the agricultural industry, and we need legislation that will create a new guest worker visa program and provide a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and their families. As such, we welcome efforts by members of Congress to highlight the needs of agriculture.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation commended Lofgren "for setting a high priority on solving the agricultural labor crisis," AFBF stated.

“The labor shortage is a major constraint to farm production and growth across the country, and solving this problem is a priority for Farm Bureau,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Rep. Lofgren’s bill addresses one key aspect of the problem, the legal status of so many of our workers. We are pleased that, at the start of the 116th Congress, Chairwoman Lofgren has underscored the importance of this critical issue. We are ready to work with Rep. Lofgren and members on both sides of the aisle to provide a path to legalization for our workers and develop a guest worker program that meets the needs of growers in all sectors of agriculture, now and in the future.”

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern applauded Lofgren and Feinstein as well, noting the two "have long been leaders in the immigration policy debate, and we look forward to working with them this Congress." Mulhern added that providing farmers with access to legal workers is a key element to helping solve the dairy industry's labor challenges.

“NMPF is eager to work with Rep. Lofgren and Ranking Member Feinstein on this issue, as well as on solutions to establish a program for future agricultural workers, which is another critically important component of the debate," Mulhern said. “As we have with previous legislative efforts, NMPF looks forward to working with Congress to enact a solution to our industry’s critical workforce challenges. This bill enables that conversation to start and we commend its introduction.”

Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019

https://goo.gl/…

News release including co-sponsors https://goo.gl/…

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@njdc.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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