New Bill Aims to Protect Immigrant Farmworkers
Many farmworkers have been experiencing anxiety due to President Donald Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration, which has led to a worker shortage in agriculture. Many farmworkers have left because of the fear of being targeted for deportation and the farmworkers that have remained seem to be afraid to draw attention. For example, almost 50 workers were exposed last month to a pesticide in Kern County that made them ill, but half of the workers left the worksite before anyone arrived to check on them. To remedy these issues, a bill was proposed last month that is sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate and by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in the House, which would offer a “blue card” to farmworkers who have been working in the nation’s fields for at least two years and can pass a “thorough” background check. Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, states:
To have a bill come out of the Senate co-sponsored by only Democrats is not meant to be a bill that’s passed, but to be a bill that starts the conversation about the need we have to do something about our existing [agricultural] workforce. That’s a positive. We’ve got to complete an agreement that covers a lot of the things that are important to agriculture. I don’t think anything that is less than a complete agricultural [immigration reform] bill has any chance of surviving.
Many other people believe that the bill is unlikely to pass because it seems less complete than a similar bill that was rejected in 2013. In the meantime, applications for H-2A “guest worker” visas from the Department of Labor surged 36 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same time period last year. However, critics of the H-2A program claim that it is flawed because it is too expensive and paperwork intensive. Hopefully a solution can be worked out that would allow more immigrants to work in the United States to help with the worker shortage in agriculture and give the workers an eventual path to citizenship.
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