Half of U.S. farmworkers — a million people or more, by some estimates — are believed to be undocumented. Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate unveiled bills on Thursday to give them “blue card” status to work legally in the United States and gain the chance to become permanent residents, with an eventual path to citizenship.
Although a similar proposal died during the last session of Congress, Democrats now control the House. Republican lawmakers, for their part, have focused on overhauling an agricultural guestworker program. President Trump, who advocates deporting undocumented immigrants, told the largest U.S. farm group on Monday that “I’m going to make it easier” for farmworkers to enter the country, though he provided no details. The administration said last May that it would modernize the H-2A visa for seasonal farmworkers.
Agricultural employers say it is vital to have a legal and reliable workforce, which could require the reform of agricultural visas for short-term laborers and the adjustment of legal status for undocumented workers already in the country. Congress has been unable to agree on either of those steps. Demands for border control often overwhelm attempts at immigration reform.
The bills sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, both from California, would allow undocumented farmworkers to apply for a blue card if they have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years, pay any fines and processing fees, and pass a law enforcement check. After three to five years, they could adjust to permanent resident status, the “green card.”
“Farmworker communities across the country are living and working in fear due to President Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant enforcement and deportation agenda,” said Lofgren. Feinstein said, “We must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”
A dozen senators and five dozen representatives, including House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler of New York and House Rules chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, were cosponsors of the bills. Feinstein is the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first stop for the bills would be the Judiciary committees, which have jurisdiction over U.S. laws.
Workers in all types of agricultural sectors, from growing crops, tending livestock, and lumbering to packaging and processing raw commodities, would be eligible for blue cards. Cardholders could seek permanent resident status after three years if they work at least 150 days — five months — annually. If they work at least 100 days a year for five years, they could apply for a green card.
The United Farm Workers and the advocacy group Farmworker Justice support the bill. The Western Growers Association, representing fruit and vegetable farmers, welcomed attention on the shortage of farm labor. “Solving the immigration crisis is a priority and necessity for the agricultural industry, and we need legislation that will create a new guestworker visa program and provide a workable path to legalization for our existing workforce and their families,” said its chief executive, Tom Nassif.