Immigration reform advances in Senate
The full Senate is expected to take up immigration reform in June after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill on a 13-5 vote.
The proposed new agriculture worker program survived the committee process intact. The program includes a market-based federal structure to ensure a steady and experienced agricultural labor force. The framework was developed through negotiations between the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, key senators and ag labor groups.
Under the proposal, current experienced agricultural workers will be allowed to stay in the U.S. while adjusting to legal status. A future workforce program would provide employers and employees with flexibility through either an at-will or contractual agreement under a three-year visa program. There would be a transitional period from the current H-2A guest worker system to the new program to ensure employers will not encounter gaps in program availability and worker shortages.
"We are pleased the Senate Judiciary has moved forward with committee passage of the bill. The strong bi-partisan vote out of the committee should send a positive signal to the rest of the Senate and their colleagues in the House that the time has come to address this important policy issue that has lingered on much too long in the eyes of many people in the produce industry," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. "Now is the time for every United Fresh member to make his or her voice heard on Capitol Hill about this crucial industry need."
Another industry organization actively involved in lobbying for immigration reform, Western Growers, also expressed approval of the Senate action.
“We are very pleased with the progress made by the Senate Judiciary Committee and thank them for all the hard work they’ve done,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. “Without workable legislation that fixes our broken immigration system, our farmers cannot provide a secure supply of fresh, domestic food for our nation. We look forward to swift passage in the Senate next month.”