Congressman Luis Gutierrez (Dem., Ill.) announced today that he will be introducing the Agricultural Worker Program Act to the House of Representatives next week. His bill will be a companion bill to legislation introduced to the U.S. Senate last week.
“[Undocumented farm workers] hold the tools of food production but not the documents to live freely and openly in our society,” he said in a press conference hosted by the United Farm Workers this morning.
“If we don’t do this, more and more of our food will be grown outside of America,” he says. It’s far better for American consumers that food be grown here under U.S. labor and environmental laws than elsewhere where such regulation is far more lax.
The bill is designed to create a path to legal status and eventually citizenship for agricultural workers already here. Workers must be able to show they have worked at least 100 hours in both 2015 and 2016 to obtain a “blue card,” which would enable them to remain in the United States. If they continue to work at least those numbers of hours for another three years, they would be eligible for a “green card,” and after five years, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Gutierrez hopes to recruit more colleagues, both Democratic and Republican, to sign on to the bill. He says the 2018 election will put pressure on Congress to do something on immigration reform. Immigrant worker rights, he says, are central to progressive politics to provide basic human and civil rights.
There are currently some 2.5 million undocumented agricultural workers in the United States, says Bruce Goldstein, President of Farm Worker Justice. “The agricultural system in the U.S. would collapse if we deported large numbers of them,” he says.
While the H2A program expanded by 20% last year, the program is for seasonal workers only. Dairy workers, because they are needed year round, currently are not eligible for the program.