WASHINGTON, April 22, 2013 – Lawmakers were urged Monday to approve comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) that aims to solve the agriculture sector’s shortage of a supply of documented farm workers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off the official debate with a hearing on the bill, which largely hopes to provide a pathway to legal status not just for farm workers, but also for the millions of undocumented people in the nation.
Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, told the committee that the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” would go far to repair the nation’s broken immigration system that “threatens our nation’s food supply.”
“The UFW and our nation’s agricultural employers have often been at odds on many policy issues – but we have now come together to unify our nation’s agriculture industry,” Rodriguez said. “We are in a unique moment in our nation’s history – and together with a lot of work, you on this committee can make the changes we need to secure our nation’s food supply.”
Rodriguez highlighted a provision in the bill that would create a registry of foreign recruiters and require recruiters to post a bond. He said that more than 90 percent of H-2A agriculture workers program are recruited, but “no one knows who the recruiters are.”
“This lack of transparency breeds fraud, coercion and worse,” he said. “Requiring recruiters to register in the U.S. and to post a bond will shed light on an industry that currently has no regulatory oversight either in the U.S. or Mexico.”
In addition, the bill would create a new “blue card” program for experienced farm workers, and a new version of the current agricultural worker visa program.
Also, farmers would have five years from enactment of the legislation to comply with a provision mandating use of the federal government’s work verification program, E-Verify.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told Rodriguez that she was “impressed” that the union was able to sit down with agricultural producers and hail out a tentative deal.
Klobluchar noted that guest farm workers bring not only direct benefits, in terms of expertise, but also bring indirect benefits in the form of local purchases.
“They buy motorcycles and washing machines, and send them home.” Klobuchar. “[One worker] bought a canoe for $200 and it cost another $200 to ship it, but it was cheaper than buying it in their country.”
Weighing in, Charles Conner, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a founding member of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, stressed that producers want a solid supply of documented farm workers.
Conner acknowledged that a “majority of agriculture’s current workforce is unauthorized.”
“In the short-term, the legislation provides that current unauthorized farm workers would be eligible to obtain legal status through the blue card program.,” he said. “Granting work authorization for current experienced agricultural workers will preserve agriculture’s workforce and maintain stability in the sector. These workers would have a future obligation to work in agriculture.”
Alyson Eastman, president and owner of Lake Home Business Services, Inc. doing business as Book-Ends Associates, said her company has been assisting H-2A employers since 1993.
“Agricultural employers face many challenges these days, but a shared challenge faced by all farmers seems to be finding legal and experienced laborers who can provide the agricultural employers with competence, predictability, and stability,” Eastman said.
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