Jan 23, 2019
Agricultural Worker Program Act would create easier path to citizenship

On Jan. 17, U.S. Congressman Jimmy Panetta, D-California, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path toward earned legal status and eventual citizenship.

Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 641), farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years may earn “blue card” status that allows them to continue to legally work in the U.S. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three years or five years — depending on hours worked in agriculture — would be eligible to adjust to lawful permanent residence (green card).

“Immigrant farmworkers are not only the backbone of our nation’s agriculture industry, they and their families are the heart and soul of many rural communities, like mine on the central coast of California. They plant and harvest the food that goes on our dinner tables and enrich the social, cultural, and historical fabric of our society. This bill provides these men and women with a way to earn their citizenship by contributing to our agriculture and our communities,” said Panetta. “It is well past time to address our nation’s severe labor shortage and its impact on our agriculture industry. As the representative of the Salad Bowl of the World, I am proud to introduce this bill, which is a critical step forward for both our farmers and farmworkers and for our efforts to finally reform our broken immigration system.”

Agriculture is a $47 billion industry in California, and U.C. Davis estimates that up to 60 percent of California’s 421,000 farmworkers — approximately 253,000 people — are undocumented. Under the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement guidelines, undocumented farmworkers are all priorities for deportation.

“Farmers throughout California struggle mightily to find workers, and we all know that backbreaking farm labor is performed largely by undocumented immigrants,” said Feinstein. “By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill would ensure that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and that California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to succeed. Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are a priority for deportation under the Trump administration’s policies. We must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”

California Farm Bureau Federation likes proposed bill

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said the bill addresses a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform.

“We’re encouraged by the bill’s introduction in both chambers and appreciate the leadership of our California legislators to begin tackling this issue at the beginning of the new Congress,” Johansson said. “Farm employees and farmers need legislation that addresses legal status for employees and their immediate family members who are in the country now.

“Though this legislation is an important first step, CFBF supports comprehensive immigration reform that would allow future employees to migrate more easily to and from their home country, as well as to move from farm to farm for employment.”

California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) responds

The House bill is co-sponsored by dozens of Democratic representatives, including 22 from California. The Senate version (bill number has not been released) is co-sponsored by 11 Democratic senators. Feinstein and colleagues previously introduced the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017.

“We appreciate the effort to provide legal status to the many immigrant farmworkers currently in the United States who contribute greatly to the communities where they live and work,” CAWG President John Aguirre said. “However, the bill fails to address the current broken H-2A visa guestworker program. This means it offers no long-term solution to the chronic labor shortages that plague California agriculture.” 

“CAWG supports passage of comprehensive immigration legislation to remedy the nation’s highly flawed and dysfunctional immigration policies. In particular, CAWG is focused on passage of legislation that would allow immigrant farmworkers in the United States to continue working in agriculture, offer opportunities for their family members to adjust to legal status and provide for an effective and efficient agricultural guestworker program to meet the labor needs of California’s farmers.”

Western Growers weigh in

In a response to the bill, Western Growers’ President and CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“We recognize and applaud the efforts of Senator Feinstein and Representative Lofgren, as well as many other members of the House and Senate, to address the acute labor shortage that plagues production agriculture.

“Farm labor is incredibly challenging work that most native-born Americans are not interested in pursuing so we have long relied upon a skilled workforce who are new migrants to our country as well as guest workers.

“Solving the immigration crisis is a priority and necessity for the agricultural industry, and we need legislation that will create a new guest worker visa program and provide a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and their families. As such, we welcome efforts by members of Congress to highlight the needs of agriculture.”

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Our members and their workers provide half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including half of America’s fresh organic produce.

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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