Feinstein, others introduce farmworker deportation protection act
Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California on May 3 introduced a bill to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path to earned legal status and eventual citizenship.
Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years would earn lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would be eligible to adjust to a green card or legal permanent residency.
Agriculture is a $54 billion industry in California, and the University of California at Davis estimates that up to 70 percent of California farmworkers — approximately 560,000 people — are undocumented, Feinstein noted in a news release. Under the Justice Department’s new immigration enforcement guidelines, they are all priorities for deportation, she added.
“Everywhere I travel in California, I hear from farmers, growers and producers from all industries — wine, citrus, fruit and tree nuts, dairy — that there aren’t enough workers,” Feinstein said.
“Farm labor is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants — a fact that should surprise no one,” she said.
“By protecting farmworkers 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,” Feinstein said. “Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are now a priority for deportation under this administration’s shameful policies. We simply must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”
“Across our country, including the many dairy farms of Vermont, foreign workers support agriculture and help put food on our tables,” Leahy said. “It is past time we show our support for them and our understanding of the challenges that farmers and workers face in doing the hard work of dairy farming. Our bill would allow these workers to come out of the shadows and contribute to their farms and communities without fear of arrest, and I am proud to support it.”
“California has the largest agricultural economy in the country, and our famers rely on the labor of undocumented immigrant workers,” Harris said. These workers contribute to our economy and pay taxes, while performing backbreaking labor in a sector where there are often labor shortages. It’s past time and smart for our economy that we provide them a pathway to citizenship, decent working conditions, and the opportunity to come out of the shadows and more fully contribute to our state and national economy.”
“Colorado’s agriculture economy relies on an experienced workforce,” Bennet said. “The failure to fix our broken immigration system has had real economic consequences for our farmers and ranchers. This bill serves as a necessary step until we can enact a long-term solution by passing comprehensive immigration reform.”
“The United Farm Workers strongly supports and cheers Sen. Feinstein’s introduction of the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 because the act recognizes that the people who feed our nation should be able to earn the opportunity to gain legal status,” said Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farmworkers. “Overwhelmingly, farm workers do the hard, brutal work of feeding all of us — it is long past time that the law should allow professional farm workers the chance to earn legal status.”
A long list of other Hispanic, labor and liberal organizations also endorsed the bill. ❖