Gutierrez discussed the Agricultural Worker Program Act he plans to introduce to the House at a press conference May 9.
Gutierrez discussed the Agricultural Worker Program Act he plans to introduce to the House at a press conference May 9.

During a press conference hosted by the United Farm Workers, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he plans to introduce the Agricultural Worker Program Act in the House of Representatives.

The legislation has already been introduced in the Senate.

“We benefit greatly from their hard work,” Guitierrez said of immigrant workers. “But we don’t respect their work by allowing them to work legally.”

The panel at the May 9 press conference included workers and was moderated by Arturo Rodriguez, president of the UFW. The panel described conditions facing foreign workers who live in fear of being deported, and the effect that has on the agricultural industry.

“We don’t get as many applicants anymore because of the fear of deportation,” said Monterey Mushrooms president Shah Kazemi, who participated in the conference.

“There is always going to be a need for specialized workers in agriculture,” Rodriguez said. “How do we sustain a professional labor force that can continue to harvest in the U.S.?”

The bill would allow citizenship for foreign agricultural workers if they continue to work in agriculture. The first step is a “blue card,” which allows workers to stay in the U.S. after showing they worked at least 100 days in 2015 and 2016. Applicants must continue to work at least 100 days in agriculture for the next three years to be eligible for a green card, and will be eligible for citizenship five years later.

“We need to offer current agriculture workers an opportunity for citizen status so we don’t destabilize the workforce,” Bruce Goldstein, president of Farm Worker Justice said. “There is always going to be a need for specialized workers in agriculture.”

Rodriguez said that working with the agricultural industry is necessary to produce results.

“The statements by the Trump administration about immigration enforcement and the enforcement that has happened has created a new set of circumstances that are motivating employers and citizens to say ‘We need a solution,’” Goldstein said. “We are hoping these circumstances will lead to congressional action.”