Update on 12/11/19:
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday evening that would make it easier for farmworkers to gain legal status in the U.S.
The bill passed 260 to 165. It was more heavily supported by Democrats, but has many Republican co-sponsors, including Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson.
“And we’re here today addressing agriculture’s number one issue — their number one issue — and that’s their labor force," Simpson said on the House floor.
The act would provide a way for agricultural workers to earn legal status based on work history, and would reform the seasonal H-2A visa program, making it easier for employers to hire workers. It would also help dairies hire year-round workers on visas.
Simpson said the measure is crucial to Idaho’s economy.
“Agriculture is the backbone of Idaho’s economy and without this bill how can we pretend to say we care about rural America?”
Simpson and Idaho Representative Russ Fulcher were two of the 34 Republicans who voted to support to bill. Now it moves on to the Senate.
Update on 11/25/19: The House Judiciary Committee passed this bill last week 18-12. Co-sponsors hope it receives a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives soon.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers, including Idaho representative Mike Simpson, introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act on Wednesday that would make it easier for farmworkers to gain legal status.
It has support from farmworker organizations, which say the bill would offer stability for workers who often live in fear of deportation. Several agriculture industry groups, including the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, also back the bill and were involved in the months-long negotiation process.
The act would provide a pathway to legal protections for many undocumented farmworkers who could apply to be "Certified Agricultural Workers," and could later be eligible for permanent resident status, depending on their work history and future work commitments.
The legislation would also streamline the H-2A visa program, which allows employers to hire immigrants for temporary, seasonal agricultural work. Through reforms to the application process, it would allow growers to hire workers more easily. The bill also outlines changes to wage structures and housing costs for H-2A workers.
Under the proposed system, employers would use an online federal platform called E-verify to check the status of their workers.
Moreover, this proposed bill would allocate a certain number of visas to year-round industries like dairy. As Rick Naerebout of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association explains, dairy workers are not currently eligible for the seasonal H-2A visas.
"This piece of legislation would give us access to a visa program, not only for the existing workers, but also for the future flow," Naerebout said.
Immigration reform has been a top issue for the Dairymen's Association, as foreign-born workers hold about 90% of on-farm jobs in the dairy industry.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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