Bill would replace H-2A and E-Verify programs
Immigration reforms that would replace H-2A visas with an agricultural guest worker program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture would provide growers with a stable, legal work force for the first time in decades, produce leaders say.
Leaders from numerous fresh produce groups are supporting the bill, introduced April 17 by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. Several of them spoke during a press conference of the Ag Workforce Coalition.
Eleven organizations, including the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., founded the coalition. It is supported by another 58 groups. The coalition negotiated with Schumer and seven other senators co-sponsoring the bill, named the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers — one of the coalition’s founding members — said the coalition is “behind something truly historic for agriculture and comprehensive immigration reform.”
He said the United Farm Workers’ move to join the coalition is a rare example of labor and employers joining efforts.
Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh, said the proposed reforms are the best opportunity he’s seen for U.S. growers to gain access to a legal work force.
“Our industry has always been up front about our work force,” Stenzel said April 18. “We know many of our workers today are undocumented … but they are doing work that many Americans are not willing to do.”
Blue cards in, H-2A out
To address the problem of an estimated 1.2 million undocumented foreign workers in the agricultural sector, the 844-page bill would create a “blue card” system that would be in effect for five years. Having a blue card would not entitle workers to public benefits.
Undocumented employees will be required to pay a penalty of $100 and prove they worked in the ag sector before Dec. 31, 2012, would be issued a blue card to start them on the road to a traditional green card.
All current agricultural workers would be eligible to apply for blue cards.
“The benefit to the workers is that they immediately have legal status,” Stenzel said. “The benefit to the growers is that they would have a stable work force.”
Arturo Rodriquez, president of the United Farm Workers, said the bill and the coalition’s work on it are unprecedented.
“With this (legislation) farmworkers would no longer have to fear deportation … and the compromises on wage rates that were reached should create stability for farmers and workers alike.”