America’s immigration issue is complex, but it’s especially contradictory in the agricultural industry: Illegal immigrants are, of course, illegal; but without these undocumented workers, U.S. farmers would struggle to find enough labor to run their businesses. So how is America supposed to resolve this incongruity? A group of senators believe they have a solution.
Last week, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act, a bill specifically designed to allow farm workers to stay in the US and, under certain conditions, to become eligible for a longer term resident status.
According to Senator Feinstein’s office, if passed, the legislation would grant undocumented workers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years a new “blue card” status. If a farm worker maintains that status for a period of three to five years (depending on hours worked), that person could potentially adjust to a green card or legal permanent residency from there.
As Feinstein’s office points out, the issue of undocumented farm workers is especially important in her state of California where it’s estimated that as many as 560,000 people, 70 percent of all agricultural workers, don’t have proper documentation.
“Farm labor is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants—a fact that should surprise no one,” Feinstein said. “By protecting farm workers from deportation, our bill achieves two goals—ensuring that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to thrive.”
Though the bill seems like it could be a sensible solution, it will be interesting to see how the legislation, which is penned entirely by Democrats, will be received by a Republican Congress and President Trump. However, as Modern Farmer points out, Trump-appointed USDA secretary Sonny Perdue recently said that deporting farmworkers “is not [the President’s] focus, nor will that be my focus.” Meanwhile, a companion bill, the Agricultural Worker Program Act is set to be introduced in the House of Representatives next week.