WASHINGTON, DC — On Wednesday, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee about a proposed bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that could provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers. The bill passed the House in March.
“I’m here today simply to advocate on behalf of American agriculture and these workers. To plead with the Senate to fix this broken system, to maintain the capacity of this great food and agricultural industry to continue to provide the benefits that we all enjoy in this country, and at the same time to provide respect and dignity to the farmworkers, who are working so hard to make this system what it is today,” Vilsack said.
During the hearing, some lawmakers supported the bill to provide legal status to immigrant farm workers.
“Passing immigration reform that respects the dignity and the work of all immigrants it’s also recognition to their contribution to our economy and our national security,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA).
But Republican lawmakers say they won’t support the bill because they say it misses the mark on border security. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has called the committee to hold a hearing with the Department of Homeland Security.
“There is no way in hell we can legalize anybody until we first understand the effect that it would have at the border and whether or not it would incentivize further illegal immigration,” Graham said.
The hearing included testimonies from Arturo S. Rodriguez President Emeritus United Farm Workers of America, Linnea Kooistra of Kooistra Farms, and Shay Myers, CEO for Owyhee Produce.
“This bill isn’t about labor shortages and people skipping ahead of the line. This is about the American dream, the American voter, and the viability of an America that allows the dreamer to dream and the voter to create the change they dream of,” Myers said.
In April, Myers invited the public to pick and keep thousands of pounds of asparagus for free because he could not find workers and did want the food to go to waste.
“This year on our asparagus farm we lost 100% of the season's profits because we were unable to get domestic labor when Our 36 H2A workers were delayed at the border and arrived 90 days after our date of need. 90 days. We lost nearly 300,000 pounds of asparagus,” he told the committee.
Myers also called for the committee to act on the proposed bill.
“I strongly urge this committee to take action on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which must include green cards for those that keep America fed and consistent access to labor for farmers through H2A visas. The farm Workforce Modernization Act is one step many more are desperately needed)in the right direction of ethically right, economically smart, and safe policy,” Myers concluded.
The proposed bill outlines a process of how undocumented farmworkers could earn a permanent resident card and citizenship. According to the bill, a qualifying applicant could apply for Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) Status.
Requirements for CAW
To qualify for CAW, applicants must show proof they worked in the Ag industry for 180 during two years before the bill’s introduction, go through a law enforcement and security background check, and pay an application fee. If approved for CAW status, it would last for five years and a half.
Requirements for Permanent Resident (Green Card)
CAW applicants would have to provide documents they work at least 100 days in agricultural labor for four years if the worker already works in the industry 10 years or more before the enactment of the bill. But it would be 8 years if the applicant works less than 10 years before the enactment. Pay the application fee and a $1,000 fine.
To see the changes the bill would make to the H-2A Visa program, click here.