( File photo )

Drawing broad bipartisan and industry support, House lawmakers on Oct. 30 introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

The legislation has three main parts:

  • Earned status for certified agricultural workers;
  • Improvements to the H-2A program; and 
  • Mandatory E-Verify for growers.

A summary and full text of the legislation is online.

The bipartisan bill represents the best legislation the farming community could achieve at this time, said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers.

“Both sides have had to give up a lot of things,” he said Oct. 30, adding that agriculture interests will seek to improve the bill as it moves through Congress. Importantly, he said the bill improves the H-2A guest worker program and provides legal status for existing workers.

Nassif said the bill boasts an “impressive” number of Democrat and Republican co-sponsors, but will need an intense lobbying effort.

“I think the bill sends a strong message to the Senate and the White House,” he said.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., said it addresses the needs of growers and workers.

“For many years, farmers and farm workers from the Central Coast to the center of America to the East Coast have faced continued uncertainty when it comes to agriculture labor,” Panetta said in a news release. 

Panetta said representatives from both parties have been working on the legislation for nine months, meeting with growers and farm workers to “grind out the details of legislation that protects the people that currently work in agriculture and modernizes and streamlines our immigration system for agriculture labor.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement the House agreement on H-2A reforms will make it easier for farmers to hire workers while protecting them from deportation.

“The agreement includes key provisions from the Agriculture Worker Program Act, which would allow migrant workers to apply for temporary ‘blue card’ status,” Feinstein said in the statement. “Similar to our blue card bill, the House bill would give farmworkers the opportunity to legally work in the United States with an option to eventually apply for permanent status.”

Other co-sponsors include representatives Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. A full list of co-sponsors is available online.

Industry Reaction
Several groups issued statements supporting the legislation.

Tom Nassif, Western Growers:
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses two critical needs for American agriculture — to retain existing, experienced workers and to ensure a reliable future flow of guest workers. Furthermore, after a satisfactory transition period, the bill includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating the commitment our industry has made toward a long-term labor solution.” 
Nassif said the the bill involved many stakeholders working for many months, and the result is an agreement that “few thought was possible.”
“However, this is just the beginning. What lies ahead is a very important process that will require the support of both political parties and the president. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has the resounding support of the agriculture community, and contains principles that have historically received backing on both sides of the aisle.”
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association:
“More work is needed to improve this legislation, but in a time where Washington can’t seem to agree on anything, these members have stepped forward and recognized that the challenge of immigration reform is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it is an American problem, and we need to fix it.”

Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association:
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will stabilize the current agricultural workforce by creating a process for them to gain work authorization to continue working in agriculture. The bill also brings needed modernization and cost containment to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.”
Bair said the legislation as introduced is a compromise and the first step in a long process.   
“Each year growers coast to coast face uncertainty as to whether there will be sufficient labor to harvest the crop. The current system causes an unstable situation for not only apple growers, but for all farmers who depend on immigrant labor to bring Americans healthy and affordable food. A stable, legal and reliable workforce is critical if we are to continue to have a vibrant domestic apple supply.”

Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual:
“This legislation is critical to the sustainability of the fresh produce industry and our continued ability to grow fresh and healthy citrus products in California. The existing system is out-of-date and does not meet the needs of employers or employees. We must put aside political differences and create a reasonable solution.”

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