U.S. House Passes Bill to Give Legal Status to Farmworkers

By: - December 12, 2019 12:00 am

The House approved a bill Wednesday that would grant legal status to farmworkers currently living in the country illegally in exchange for stricter future hiring enforcement, but with meager Republican support that makes its future in the Senate unclear.

“Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers,” said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who co-sponsored the bill with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington state Republican.

“Our farmers and ranchers facing a labor crisis need relief,” Newhouse said.

The 260-165 vote to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act included 34 GOP votes in favor and 161 against.

Some conservative groups criticized the bill’s legalization process, which would protect farmworkers from deportation even if they are now living in the United States illegally. The legislation would require years of documented farm work for deportation protection and eventual citizenship.

“Granting amnesty to illegal aliens is always a bad idea,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “and merely attracts more illegal immigration.”

The bill also would mandate E-Verify use in the agriculture industry, an online check meant to ensure that future hires have legal permission to work.

Opinion in the farm industry was split: Almost 300 groups came out in support, but the American Farm Bureau Federation called it “deeply disappointing.”

The industry hoped for more changes in the H-2A visa program that allows farmers to bring in temporary workers from abroad. Under the new legislation, the program would be extended to year-round workers in the dairy industry.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican who voted against the bill, said it needs to provide more protection from wage increases and should be extended to meat and poultry processing plants.

“The agricultural industry wants and deserves a streamlined program that provides more certainty as to the temporary labor needed to sustain their businesses,” Collins said.

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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.