Farm labor legislation remains on the back-burner in the Senate, but one advocate hopes to see action by March.
Bipartisan efforts are underway in the Senate to craft a farmworker immigration bill, said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
The U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats enjoy a majority, passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act Dec. 11 with a vote of 260 to 165.
Marsh said the Republican-controlled Senate is likely to create its own version of a farm worker bill, but won’t likely take it up until after Super Tuesday, which is March 3.
“We are talking with both Republicans as well as the Democrats, and I know that some of the Republicans and the Democrats are meeting together, too,” Marsh said.
“Just as we had bipartisan effort in the in the House, hopefully we get the same bipartisan effort coming out of the Senate.”
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., also hopes to advance farm labor legislation in the House that would create a guest worker identification card, through system that would not allow H-2A guest workers to come to the U.S. without the card. Yoho’s bill would eventually create a mandatory E-verify program for agricultural employers. Marsh said that Yoho’s legislation won’t be able get a hearing without greater bipartisan support.
In any farm worker legislation, Marsh said that it is essential to account for the existing undocumented farm workers, which conservatively are estimated at more than than 1 million of the total 2.4 million total hired farm worker population in 2017. By way of contrast, the H-2A program had about 200,000 guest worker positions certified in 2017.
Growers also need wage relief in any H-2A legislation, Marsh said, and greater opportunity for employers to fill year-round farm positions. Year-round operations, like greenhouses and dairy farms, also need H-2A support, he said.