U.S. Senate approves immigration, ag. labor reform

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U.S. Senate approves immigration, ag. labor reform

The United States Senate succeeded in passing sweeping immigration reform yesterday that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and remake the agricultural laborforce.Capitol-Senate

By a 68-to-32 vote, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act earned the support of all Democrats and 14 Republicans.

The vote advances the first reform to the nation's immigration system since 2006. The House of Representatives will take up the vote in July to determine if the bill will move forward.

The fresh produce and agriculture industries praised the Senate's passage of the act. United Fresh welcomed the agricultural labor provisions directed at creating a legal workforce.

“We applaud the Senate for seizing the opportunity to enact immigration reform that is desperately needed in the fresh produce industry and many other sectors of agriculture,” said United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel.

“This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain, and boost the economy. We appreciate the efforts of our allies in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers with whom we worked to advance provisions that will provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers.”

Among labor measures that could impact agriculture is the Blue Card program. The measure would provide means for undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status. To qualify, the workers must show documentation of having worked at least 100 days or 575 hours since Dec. 31, 2012. After fulfilling the program requirements for five years, the workers may apply for a Green Card.

An agricultural guest worker program is another initiative that would take effect, if the bill receives House approval. Workers could come "at-will" under a three-year visa for a job offer from an authorized agricultural employer. Workers will then have the freedom to work for any authorized agricultural employer during the time of their visa.

The other guest worker option would be contract based and allow workers to enter the country with a specific contract, for a specific duration of time.

Under both options, employers provide housing or a housing allowance. Guest workers would also receive an established wage.

United Farm Workers president Arturo S. Rodriguez called the measures a vital step toward stabalizing the workforce and establishing food safety.

"The comprehensive immigration reform proposal, which includes agricultural provisions negotiated by the United Farm Workers and major grower associations, fulfills the urgent need for an earned legalization program that enables undocumented farm workers who are the backbone of the nation’s agricultural industry to swiftly obtain legal immigration status," he said.

"It will also stabilize the farm labor workforce through incentives for immigrants to continue working in U.S. agriculture."

Beyond labor reform, the Senate bill would also put millions of dollars into security along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent the entrance of unauthorized immigrants. The increased enforcement would include 20,000 additional border agents and a 700-mile fence along the border.

Photo: Scrumshus via Wikimedia Commons


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