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Farm Workforce Modernization Act Makes Room for Future Reform & Bipartisan Collaboration

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“Fixing a broken system can start in the fields and orchards, but it needs to spread far beyond farm country.”

This week marked the introduction of legislation that supports the workers and businesses across the country who put food on our tables and are the foundation of the American economy. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, spearheaded by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) is a leap forward in recognizing the hard work of millions of undocumented workers, but there is work yet to do. This legislation is a push in the right direction for broader legalization programs for all undocumented workers and an immigration regulatory system that works for families, refugees, workers, employers and communities that values human dignity.

As the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board explains:

 The bill is a small breakthrough that should nudge Washington to take bigger steps

… With an estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country, the numbers touched by this bill are a fraction. The measure comes with job verification rules and protects only agriculture workers. It’s a compromise package that’s shielded from the much larger world of immigrants without legal status.

Fixing a broken system can start in the fields and orchards, but it needs to spread far beyond farm country.

Spanish-language media also expanded its coverage on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Media outlets highlight the many benefits the legislation would bring to the more than one million agricultural workers and their families – especially their legalization – hammering home the largest impacts for the U.S. agricultural sector.

Nicole Narea at Vox details the behind the scenes breakdown of the legislation, noting the bill is shockingly bipartisan in a political climate that is not necessarily the most inviting to legislators working across the political divide. She writes: 

The legislation, the product of months of discussions, represents a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on one of the most contentious topics of the Trump administration, ultimately attracting 20 Republican cosponsors, according to a spokesperson for Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), who helped lead the negotiations.

… Republicans are usually reluctant to back any kind of legalization of unauthorized immigrants — immigration restrictionist groups have lambasted the bill as a means of securing “cheap foreign labor” at the expense of American workers — but the lawmakers represent districts where agriculture is a major industry.

If the bill passes the House, it could signal that a piecemeal approach to immigration reform is more feasible than a comprehensive bill like the “Gang of Eight” proposal that failed in the Senate in 2013. A similarly narrow bipartisan bill that would have eliminated per-country caps on employment-based green cards passed the House in July with significant bipartisan support before it was ultimately blocked in the Senate in September.

… The US agricultural industry has relied on immigrant labor for decades, dating back to the Bracero Program in the 1940s that allowed millions of Mexicans to come to the US as farmworkers. Another large influx of unauthorized workers came during the 1990s before a slowdown that started around 2008, leaving agricultural employers unable to replace an aging workforce.

Congress has been wrestling with how to respond to labor shortages in agriculture and reduce the industry’s reliance on unauthorized workers ever since. Under President Donald Trump, that mission has taken on new urgency after his administration’s immigration raids targeting the agricultural sector.

… If a significant bipartisan majority passes the bill in the House, it might push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. But even then, it will still need Trump’s backing, unless lawmakers can secure a veto-proof majority.