With congressional adjournment on the horizon, a parade of farmers, food processors, and lawmakers called on the Senate on Wednesday to get to work on legislation to give legal status to undocumented farmworkers and streamline the H-2A guestworker program. The House passed an ag labor bill 19 months ago, but nothing has emerged from behind-the-scenes negotiations in the Senate on the issue.
President Biden called on Congress to update the immigration system to provide a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers, those on temporary status, (undocumented) farmworkers and essential workers" on Tuesday. Immigration reform has been on the Capitol Hill back burner for months.
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers could gain employment and travel authorization under provisions in the social welfare and climate change bill drafted by House Democrats. But while the proposal would relieve fears of deportation, it was far less than the pathway to citizenship that is the goal of some activists.
The polarized debate over President Biden's $3.5 trillion "build back better" bill may imperil the drafting of the 2023 farm policy law, said the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. Arkansas Sen. John Boozman blamed Democrats for a breakdown in bipartisanship, saying they were "shattering the farm bill process and putting our farmers' futures in jeopardy."
Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees routinely say the panels are the least partisan in Congress, even if the harmony is strained from time to time. In the weeks ahead, the infighting over President Biden's two-part infrastructure package will test that comity on the Senate panel.
Senate Republicans threw up barriers on Wednesday to a House-passed bill that would give legal status to undocumented farmworkers and streamline the H-2A guestworker program. They called for action first to tighten control of the U.S.-Mexico border and vowed to vote against "amnesty" for undocumented farmworkers, who are estimated to make up half of the agricultural labor force.
In the wake of a heat wave blamed for the death of a farmworker, Oregon adopted an emergency rule on Thursday that guarantees workers rest breaks in the shade and plenty of cool water to drink during hot weather. Farmworker advocates called for the passage of federal protections against heat stress on the job.
In a 247-174 vote, the Democrat-led House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act on Thursday, which would provide a path to legal status for almost one million immigrant farmworkers and reform the existing H-2A visa program for agricultural workers.
The Democrat-controlled House put a bill giving legal status to undocumented farmworkers and streamlining the H-2A guestworker program on the legislative fast track on Tuesday. Party leaders hope to score a victory this week on a popular idea — an earlier version of the bill passed with bipartisan backing in 2019 — even as support for comprehensive immigration reform is lacking.
The House will vote on two popular proposals for immigration reform this week, offering a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers and offering legal status to undocumented farmworkers, said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The ag labor bill would also streamline the H-2A visa for guestworkers.
Rebuffed by the Senate last year, two U.S. representatives on Wednesday reintroduced their bipartisan bill to create legal status for undocumented farmworkers and to streamline the H-2A visa program for guestworkers.
Democrats introduced companion bills in the House and Senate on Thursday for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law. The bills, backed by President Biden, include an expedited three-year path to citizenship for some undocumented farmworkers.
Immigration reform, including legal status for farmworkers, is vital for assuring U.S. economic strength, said chairman Jerry Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Congress has deadlocked repeatedly over immigration, whether comprehensive legislation or piecemeal reforms, but President Biden, on his first day in office, called for a thorough overhaul of immigration law.
The estimated 1.25 million undocumented farmworkers in the United States would immediately gain legal status under the immigration reform bill unveiled by President Joe Biden on Wednesday, his first day in office. If passed, the bill would make the farmworkers eligible for green cards and, after three years, open a pathway for becoming U.S. citizens.
President Trump took credit for billions of dollars in trade war payments to U.S. farmers during the final presidential debate on Thursday. "I just gave $28 billion to our farmers," said Trump. "Taxpayers' money," interjected Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the only reference to agriculture, lasting less than a minute, in the two debates between the candidates.
Despite strong and bipartisan House support for farm labor reform, President Trump is unlikely to sign a reform bill, now stalled in the Senate, if it reaches him, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday.
On a strong 260-165 vote, the House passed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday to give legal status to undocumented farmworkers and modernize the H-2A guestworker program. Lead sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren said that although action in the Republican-controlled Senate is not certain, “there is an interest” in assuring a reliable farm workforce.
The House will vote soon on a bipartisan bill to provide legal status to undocumented farmworkers and to modernize the H-2A agricultural guestworker program — the first agricultural labor reform bill in three decades, said sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren.