05.04.17

Leahy Partners With Senate Allies To Shield Farmworkers From Deportation

Senator Patrick Leahy, partnering with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and to put them on a path to earned legal status and eventual citizenship. 

Under their Agricultural Worker Program Act, foreign farmworkers who have worked in the United States in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years may 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 become eligible to adjust to legal permanent residency and obtain their green cards.

The provisions are widely supported by both agricultural stakeholders and by immigrant workers rights groups nationally and are similar to provisions in the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation that Leahy guided through the U.S. Senate as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2013.  Leahy then successfully steered the bill to bipartisan passage by the full Senate.  Republican leaders in the House subsequently blocked the Senate-passed bill from House consideration and a vote.    

Leahy said:  “Across our country, including the many dairy farms of Vermont, foreign workers support agriculture and help put food on our tables.  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.  The current system has long been broken, and it needs to be fixed.  I am proud to support this solution and to continue the work of achieving these reforms.”

Feinstein, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said:  “Everywhere I travel in California, I hear from farmers, growers and producers from all industries — wine, citrus, fruit and tree nuts, dairy — that there aren’t enough workers.  Farm labor in California is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants — a fact that should surprise no one.  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.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts said:  “Farmers need predictability so they can manage their farms.  This law would help our farmers and our farmworkers by bringing stability to agriculture.”

The legislation would greatly benefit Vermont’s dairy industry, which does not currently have legal access to foreign workers.  The bill would not affect the H-2A visa program that brings temporary and seasonal workers to many diversified farms in Vermont, but which excludes dairy farmworkers.

Farm workers and their families with a “blue card” would be allowed to travel abroad and return to the United States as long as they remain employed in agriculture in the U.S. for a minimum number of days each year.  They would be able to live freely within their communities and live without the constant fear of arrest that has increased in recent months as a result of of President Trump’s executive orders calling for greatly increased immigration enforcement.  More than 40 groups advocating for worker and immigrant rights, including National Farmworkers, Farmworker Justice and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have endorsed this bill.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693