House passes Farm Workforce Modernization Act
The House late Wednesday passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act by a vote of 260 to 165.
The 260 members who voted for it included 226 Democrats and 34 Republicans, while 161 Republicans, three Democrats and one independent voted against it and one Democrat voted present.
The bill, which would ease immigration for agricultural workers, won the support of more than 300 farm groups and the United Farm Workers. Supporters included the California Farm Bureau but not the American Farm Bureau Federation, which fears it would lead to higher wages for farmworkers and make farm employers legally vulnerable.
Heritage Action for America urged members to vote against it because it would allow current agricultural workers to stay in the United States even if they had arrived without legal papers.
“Unfortunately, this bill grants amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants without doing anything to reform our broken immigration system,” Heritage said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted at a news conference after the vote that she does not usually vote on legislation except to break a tie but that she voted on the bill because “it was too close to the heart.”
At the news conference, the West Coast leadership on the bill was clear, although House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also appeared to praise it.
“Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the House Judiciary subcommittee chairwoman in charge of immigration and the lead sponsor of the bill. “In addition, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses the nation’s future labor needs by modernizing an outdated system for temporary workers, while ensuring fair wages and workplace conditions. I urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead and swiftly pass the first-of-its-kind bipartisan immigration compromise in decades that improves America’s agricultural labor programs and laws.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., the Republican co-sponsor, said, “Creating a legal and reliable workforce for American agriculture has been one of my highest priorities since coming to Congress. Our farmers and ranchers facing a labor crisis need relief, and the men and women who contribute to our nation’s agriculture industry need certainty. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the first step. This bill is our opportunity to finally provide stability to America’s farms and a significant improvement over the status quo. I am grateful to Rep. Lofgren, our bipartisan coalition, and all of the agriculture and labor groups who helped draft the bill, and I encourage input from my colleagues as we continue working to improve this legislation in the Senate.”
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said that if the American people could have watched the process they would have felt “encouraged” that there could be bipartisan agreement. LaMalfa, a rice farmer, said that access to immigrant workers is “so important for those high-value crops” in California.
Lofgren noted that both Arturo Rodriguez, the president emeritus of the United Farm Workers, and Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents fruit, vegetable and tree-nut farmers in the West, had traveled to Washington for the vote.
Rodriguez said the day was “a milestone” because it was the first time in decades that the House under either party had passed an agricultural immigration bill. Rodriguez said the bill will bring stability to both the agriculture industry and the workforce.
Nassif said that one of the reasons that the bill passed was that it is based on “the mutual respect” between the farmers and farmworkers.
Lofgren also noted that National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner had played a major role in establishing national support for the bill.
Prospects for the bill in the Senate and with President Donald Trump are considered problematic at best, but Conner told The Hagstrom Report in an email late Wednesday, “We look forward to working with the Senate as its members develop their legislation to solve this long-running issue impacting farmers. While many are skeptical of the chances in the Senate, many of these same folks said the same thing about getting a bipartisan bill through the House. Fixing the broken ag immigration system unites a broad cross-section of farmers and ranchers, and agriculture’s track record is pretty strong when the sector works together.”
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB 21-87, known as the Farm Workers Bill of Rights, though much of the content will be decided through the rulemaking process.