Bipartisan Legislation Supported by Farmers and Farmworkers Outlines a Workable Solution for American Agriculture

House lawmakers reach agricultural immigration deal” by Tal Kopan, San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2019

For years, farmers such as Bill Brim, co-owner of Lewis Taylor Farms Inc. in Tifton, Georgia, have appeared before Congress to deliver a simple message: “Farmers want to comply with the law, and we want to employ legal workers, but federal policy has failed us.” And nearly a decade ago, Arturo Rodriguez, president emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, delivered a similar message: “Now is the time for Congress to acknowledge its role in creating the current farm labor crisis and to offer a real and lasting solution.”

Farmers and farmworkers put food on the tables of every American, and the agricultural industry represents a big part of the overall U.S. economy. But the country has long known that between 50 percent and 75 percent of all farmworkers in the United States are undocumented and that the pathways that exist in the U.S. legal immigration system are insufficient to meet the country’s current and future agricultural labor needs. This is perhaps the clearest example of the country’s “de facto ‘national policy of acquiescence’” toward the existence of an extralegal immigration system.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act represents a big step toward restoring the rule of law by reforming the law to better match reality. Under the bill, current farmworkers would have the long-overdue opportunity to gain lawful permanent residence. In the future, farmworkers coming to the country through a revised temporary worker program would—after a number of years—be able to self-petition for lawful permanent residence, tapping into an expanded pool of immigrant visas generally reserved for agricultural workers. It is encouraging to see members of Congress on both sides of the aisle once again sitting down to propose meaningful solutions to real challenges.

For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”