House Democrats offer bill to provide legal status to undocumented farm workers

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2013 - House Democrats introduced comprehensive legislation reform legislation today which aims to provide a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented people - many of whom are farm workers.

The bill, offered surprisingly in the midst of the government shutdown, closely tracks legislation (S. 744) approved by the Senate in June with a strong bipartisan vote.

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Reps. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., Jared Polis, D-Colo., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Steven Horsford, D-Nev., introduced the bill.

The bill largely seeks to increase border security and finally solve the nation's long-running immigration issue.

For farm workers, the legislation would allow undocumented workers to be eligible for an immigrant visa status called a “blue card.” To qualify, they must have performed at least 575 hours or 100 work days of agricultural employment during a two-year period ending Dec. 31, 2012, and must pay a penalty and pass background checks.

Under the bill, blue-card holders could apply for lawful permanent resident status after five years if they have continued to work in agriculture, paid their taxes, and pay a fine. Then, they could apply for citizenship after being permanent residents for five years.

The legislation also would create a new nonimmigrant, less-skilled W visa agricultural worker program, which would eventually replace the H-2A agricultural worker program.

The new program would allow foreign workers who enter the United States to work for employers designated by USDA to leave their position to work for other designated agricultural employers.

The program would establish W-2 visas for contract employees and W-3 visas for “at-will” employees. The visas would be valid for three years and could be renewed for another 3 year period.

The legislation also would mandate use of the federal work authorization system, E-Verify, for all employers, including farming operations, within five years.

The House Democratic bill is likely to be dead on arrival. House Republican leadership has taken a piecemeal approach to the immigration issue focusing mainly on border security.

Addressing undocumented farm workers, the House Judiciary Committee approved June 19 the Agricultural Guestworker Act.

The bill, authored by Goodlatte, would replace the existing H-2A agricultural visa program with a new H-2C program. The bill proposes to allow up to 500,000 temporary agricultural laborers into the United States per year. The visa would allow workers to stay in the US for up to 18 months, as opposed to the maximum of one year issued to H-2A visa holders.

A summary of the House Democratic bill can be viewed here.

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