Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would put the undocumented immigrant hands that feed America onto a path to legal status and eventual citizenship. Introduced by Californians Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren and supported by dozens of other legislators, the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019 would “allow farmworkers who have worked in the field for at least 100 days in the past two years to apply for a card that will allow them to work legally in the U.S.” Once this “blue card” has been maintained for a number of years, workers could then apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
“The Lofgren-Feinstein bill is equitable and rational immigration reform serving the needs of both farm workers and growers,” said United Farm Workers president Teresa Romero and UFW Foundation executive director Diana Tellefson Torres, adding that the bill “offers America’s farm workers and their families—including many U.S. citizen children—relief from the palpable fear that paralyzes local communities and threatens stability in the agricultural industry. People are afraid to leave their homes when they drive to work every morning. They deserve relief.”
According to one estimate, perhaps as many as 60 percent of California’s farmworkers are undocumented, and overall, farmworkers are at risk of exploitation, injury, and deportation due to their immigration status, despite being the backbone of a mammoth industry. In the state, agriculture is a $47 billion industry, according to Lofgren’s office. “We all know that backbreaking farm labor is performed largely by undocumented immigrants,” said Feinstein.
At least one member’s support comes not just from recognizing the integral role farmworkers play in our economy, but also from personal experience. “I joined my father picking strawberries and cucumbers during summers off from high school,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal. “It’s difficult work with few benefits and little pay, but he did it to build a better life for our family. This bill provides farmers with reliable labor and gives farmworkers an opportunity to come out of shadows. We owe at least this to the hardworking men and women who help us put food on the table.”
“Farmworker communities across the country are living and working in fear and uncertainty due to President Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant enforcement and deportation agenda,” said Lofgren. “Addressing this crisis and allowing existing farmworkers and their families to earn legal immigration status and permanent residence is critically important to our nation’s food and agriculture system. With this legislation, farmworkers will be able to improve their wages and working conditions, resulting in a more stable farm labor force and greater food safety and security to the benefit of American employers, workers, and consumers.”