President Biden unveiling today of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is “fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in emancipating farm workers,” the United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation declared. It is unique in granting immediate legal status to eligible farm workers currently working in the United States. And it is unprecedented because it is the first time an American president is proposing his administration’s broad immigration plan during his first day in office.
Farm workers eligible under the legislation would have to pass criminal background checks and show they have labored in agriculture at least 100 days in four of the previous five years. The new president also announced he is simultaneously taking immediate actions, including restoring rights to the Dreamers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and cancelling Donald Trump’s vindictive executive orders enforcing immigration policies.
“Under the Biden bill, farm workers with work histories would immediately get legal status, along with Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “This bill is fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear and behave like free women and men. Not only is its content remarkable, but never before has a U.S. president presented his own comprehensive immigration reform measure on Day One in office. Now we must work to turn this vision into reality.”
In addition, “making a substantial difference in people’s everyday lives on Day One will be executive actions taken by President Biden to reverse previous Trump executive orders,” according to UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. Among them are “reinstating DACA as it was in 2012 under President Obama, ending the infamous Muslim ban, stopping the stealing of Department of Defense money to build Trump’s useless border wall and rescinding a string of punitive Trump executive orders on immigration enforcement. President Biden will immediately stop deporting those who harvest the food we eat. We are elated to know farm workers are being honored on Day One.”
After a steady barrage of racist and anti-immigrant messages in 2020, for five years under Trump and over decades from other Republican candidates, large majorities of Americans—including many GOP voters—support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants who comprise more than two-thirds of the “essential” front-line workers helping America survive COVID-19, including farm workers.
The Biden proposal also incorporates the same overtime pay for farm workers other American workers have enjoyed since the 1930s, phased in over several years in terms outlined in then-Senator Kamala Harris’ UFW-sponsored Fairness for Farm Workers bill.
“By electing Joe Biden, this country soundly rejected bigoted, anti-immigrant deeds and rhetoric,” Romero observed. “Elections do have consequences.” One consequence is the genuine relief the Biden plan will offer agricultural workers who for years have lived in constant terror.
Eighteen-year old Washington state college student Ruben (he asked his last name not to be used) has worked in the fields since age 13 and cast his first vote for President Biden before turning out Latino voters in Phoenix in fall 2020. “My older brother is a DACA recipient,” Ruben said. “Why should his opportunities in life be limited. My parents are farm workers. How are we honoring their sacrifices? The Latino community worked relentlessly to mobilize for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Our work isn’t done until we make sure our families have a fair path forward.”
“The last four years have been incredibly difficult for undocumented farm worker families like mine,” said UFW Foundation member and farm worker Vicente Reyes. “President Biden’s immigration bill is the outcome of many decades of farm workers organizing and fighting for their rights. We are hopeful of the possibility that one day we will be relieved from the fear of deportation that has haunted us all these years.”
Both the UFW and UFW Foundation pledged to make common cause with diverse allies in passing immigration reform, citing enhanced turnout by Latinos and immigrants that helped elect the Biden-Harris ticket in key swing states plus a majority in Congress that will work to integrate new Americans.