ICE handcuffs
May 4, 2017

New Legislation Would Prevent Farmworker Deportation

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Since President Trump vowed to take a hard line on illegal immigrants, and backed it up with raids and threats of deportation, immigrant workers on dairy farms across the country have been on edge. New legislation is designed to alleviate those fears, shielding farmworkers from deportation and putting them on a path to earned legal status and eventual citizenship.

Details: Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years could 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.

Who supports it: The bill was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Dozens of labor organizations signed on as well.

“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 says. “We simply must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”

Recently Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania, arresting nine employees. Up until that point ICE had not attempted to enter the workplace environment to search for immigrant targets. President Trump has ramped up the search for immigrants with criminal backgrounds and broadened the scope to include lower level offenders. Through March of this year ICE had apprehended 32% more immigrants than over the same period last year. 

“Across our country, including the many dairy farms of Vermont, foreign workers support agriculture and help put food on our tables,” said Leahy. “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.”

“The United Farm Workers strongly supports 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.”

Will it pass: Wait and see. So far this is a partisan bill and it would need support from the other side of the aisle to be successful.

Plus, in similar action, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis) introduced a bill that would establish a state visa program for workers. The proposed program would give more control over visa programs to states and allow for distribution of visas based on industry need.

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