Bill attempts immigration reform under ag flag
— Seeks to provide path to citizenship for farm workers
“Comprehensive immigration reform” has been a battle cry for years. The potential problem is that battle that keeps not happening. Despite this, the call was sounded again in familiar tones by familiar voices.
Last Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and farm worker advocates held a press conference on a reintroduced immigration bill. S. 1034 would protect undocumented farm workers from deportation and effectively create a pathway to citizenship. Supporters argued that such a system is necessary to protect the nation’s food security.
The bill describes its purpose as “to improve agricultural job opportunities, benefits, and security for aliens in the United States.” It would create a “blue card” for illegal immigrants engaged in agricultural work. After three years with a blue card, holders could establish legal residency under the more familiar green card. After five years with a green card, holders could apply for citizenship.
“Farm workers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in the past two years can earn what we call a blue card that shields them from deportation,” summarized Feinstein during the press conference.
The blue card would come with a long list of requirements, including no felony convictions and no attempts at unlawfully voting.
The blue card concept has been brought up before with the most recent effort being in 2013. When questioned by members of the press, participants acknowledged the similarity of the current bill to past failed efforts.
“It’s important that we do something now, proactively, to be able to talk and discuss immigration reform for immigrants in this country,” said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers of America, arguing for the current effort.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL-4), who is sponsoring the House version of S. 1034 (not released as of press), called it a “wonderfully opportune moment” to raise the issue of farm worker protections and comprehensive immigration reform. He additionally threw down a political gauntlet.
“There’s an election cycle coming up in 2018. Let me make it really, really clear to everyone on this call: Farmworker and immigrant rights are now a critical, essential part of progressive politics in the United States of America.”
He opined that there are currently enough Republican votes to pass the bills now, were they given a chance. He issued a partisan warning to Republicans nonetheless.
“We think they need to come back to that sensible, humane table which is justice for immigrants, and justice for our farmworkers. It was just 2013 that I stood with now-Speaker Paul Ryan in Chicago supporting agricultural workers, supporting immigrant rights.
That party is going to have to eventually come back if it wishes to lead in the future.” Arguments Supporters made three general arguments in favor of the bill; human rights, stability of the farm workforce, and food safety. The press conference featured numerous speakers making emotional appeals on the human rights side, but some also made more economics-focused arguments about agriculture.
“We either have to import our food or import our labor,” said Shah Kazemi, president and owner of Monterey Mushrooms, cited as the nation’s largest producer of mushrooms. Throughout the conference he detailed how undocumented farm workers’ fear of arrest and deportation has had a chilling effect on applications. He additionally said his operation’s various locations have had to cut production from 6-15 percent due to insufficient skilled labor to harvest the mushrooms. He characterized this as a food safety issue.
“It is imperative to grow the food in this country where we can control it. What comes across the border—there’s no regulation. They say there’s regulation, but we have no control over it.”
Bruce Goldstein, president of the nonprofit group, Farmworker Justice, answered questions regarding the farm labor shortages, acknowledging that there are not good statistics given how extensive undocumented workers are. He estimated this number at over 2.5 million.
“Our agricultural system would really collapse if we deported any significant number of them. We need to offer the current experienced farm workers an opportunity for immigration status so that we stabilize the workforce and have a productive agricultural system.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ editor