Lawmakers Unveil Plan to Legalize Farmworkers, Require E-Verify Use

By: - October 29, 2019 12:00 am

A crew of workers picks strawberries in Girard Township, Pennsylvania. A bipartisan congressional group is proposing to grant legal status to farmworkers living in the country illegally in exchange for mandatory checks for legal status in the future. Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP

A bipartisan congressional group plans to unveil a proposal Wednesday that would grant legal status to farmworkers currently in the country illegally, but would require employers to verify the immigration status of all future hires.

“Producers are in desperate need of a legal and reliable workforce,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington state Republican, in a statement. He joined U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, and a bipartisan group of four other House members in announcing a bill called the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

If approved, the agreement, first reported by Stateline, would give a path to citizenship to a large group of farmworkers for the first time since President Ronald Reagan’s administration offered amnesty more than 30 years ago, when tougher enforcement was also added. Under the newest proposal, farmworkers would get deportation protection followed by eventual legal status if they keep working.

In return, agricultural employers would agree to use E-Verify, a federal online verification system, to ensure that future workers have legal permission to work.

A Republican proposal last year would have offered only temporary visas to such workers in exchange for E-Verify, but it was voted down in the House.

More than a third of the nation’s 1 million agricultural workers are noncitizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 Current Population Survey. Guest H-2A farmworker visas now are available only for seasonal workers and require employers to transport workers in and out of the country and to provide housing.

The latest potential compromise follows years of discussion on Capitol Hill about how best to balance the needs of agriculture interests and those of their workforce.

The plan is based on the “earned status” concept in a Democratic bill introduced earlier this year by Lofgren and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that would require several years of documented farm work for deportation protection and eventual citizenship.

Some farmworker advocates are lobbying to grant farmworkers legal status without requiring future E-Verify checks, while some Republicans want mandatory E-Verify use without granting legal status to any current workers.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, for instance, recently called the current proposal “a nonstarter for most Republicans and the communities we represent” because it offered a path to citizenship for people now living in the country illegally.

Other representatives joining in the announcement Wednesday, according to a statement from Lofgren’s office: Democrat Jimmy Panetta of California, and Republicans Mike Simpson of Idaho, Doug LaMalfa of California and Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.