“We know that foreign hands will touch our food and the question for America is whether we want those foreign hands to grow our food in this country or another country. The choice for America is whether we want our food grown and produced under our laws for food safety and workplace safety or someone else’s.”
Washington, DC – At a press conference on Tuesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) discussed the Agricultural Workers Program Act (HR 2690), which has 46 co-sponsors in the House as of today. The bill would create a program that allows agricultural workers and their families to apply for a “Blue Card” that gives them legal status and work authorization if they show consistent employment in U.S. agriculture over the past two years, pay a fine, and pass a thorough background check. A 3- to 5- year path to citizenship is provided to those who continue to work in agriculture for the requisite amount of time. The bill is the House companion to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill, S. 1034, introduced in May (for more background, see May 25 Gutierrez press release: “Agricultural Worker Program Act (H.R. 2690) Introduced In House With Strong Support”).
On Wednesday (at 2:00 pm ET), the House Immigration Subcommittee convenes for a hearing on immigration and farmworkers, and is expected to discuss conservative proposals for so-called guest-workers that are inferior alternatives for farmers, farmworkers and the American people when it comes to normalizing immigrant farm labor.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Rep. Gutiérrez was joined by Giev Kashkooli, Political Director of UFW (United Farmworkers of America), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Greisa Martinez, Advocacy Director of United We Dream.
A video of the press conference, edited from Facebook Live, is here: https://youtu.be/F_Tf280He1Q
Still photos are available on Rep. Gutiérrez’ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RepGutierrez/
The following are Congressman Gutiérrez’ opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Remarks at Press Conference
July 18, 2017
Thank you to the United Farmworkers for all that you do and for being our partner on the Agricultural Worker Program Act.
I have had the honor of meeting with the members of UFW on many, many occasions over the past 20 years or so, and they always rejuvenate my soul with their dedication to making life better for other farmworkers and for strengthening the agricultural industry in this country.
They literally make eating food possible and we should appreciate that every single day.
Today, reporters asked me why we are having a press conference outside in Washington on such a hot day and let me tell you, being inside on a day like this is an option that we have that farmworkers do not have. They are out in this heat every day from sun up to sun down and we only have to be here for about half an hour, so relax and remember what they go through.
If each of you were to bend over or get on your knees – for a few hours – using a sharp tool or working with chemicals and heavy equipment or cows that do not want to go where you want them to go, then you would get just a taste of what farmworkers do every single day.
And they do it for not much money. And they do it without much job security and in dangerous and remote areas, sometimes.
The risk of exploitation and the risk of sexual assault for women is extraordinarily high; much higher than many might expect.
And they do it knowing that they and their families are at risk of arrest and deportation because we do not have a legal immigration system that provides legal avenues to come to this country to work in this very vital industry.
We know that foreign hands will touch our food and the question for America is whether we want those foreign hands to grow our food in this country or another country. The choice for America is whether we want our food grown and produced under our laws for food safety and workplace safety or someone else’s.
And we could choose to have legal immigration and a functioning visa program so that our working men and women are protected by our labor laws and employers are in full compliance, and accountable, but we have chosen as a nation not to do that.
The Republican proposal that will be discussed at a hearing tomorrow is to invite workers in, make them beholden to their employer and once the work is done, they have to get out or be deported.
It is based on the old model of guest workers that has not worked well for employers and especially not for workers.
The workers are not people, families, or potential Americans – the way all immigration has happened in the US for two centuries. Rather, they are disposable.
Well, we have a different vision that honors farmworkers and honors American agriculture by allowing those who work in agriculture and stay in agriculture to earn legal status if they qualify.
Senator Feinstein introduced the bill in the Senate and today I can announce I have 46 co-sponsors for the Agricultural Worker Program Act, HR 2690 in the House.
Look, when immigrants are under attack, we have to find a way to offer them safety and security and legality, not just for them and their families, although that is very important, but also for their co-workers, for the supply chain, for the American food industry, and to hold employers accountable to our laws.
[The Congressman then continued briefly in Spanish, see video: https://youtu.be/F_Tf280He1Q]
Rep. Gutiérrez is in his 13th term representing the Fourth District of Illinois. He is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and is the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
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