Dems propose new legal status for farm workers

Dems propose new legal status for farm workers
© Greg Nash
 
The bill would give agricultural workers a "blue card" — temporary residency and work permit — as long as they had worked in the industry for 100 days over the past two years, paid a fine and passed criminal and background checks.
 
Blue-card holders would gain the right to permanent residency — a green card — and citizenship over time.
 
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"The people who feed us should have an opportunity to work here legally," said Feinstein Tuesday.
 
The bill currently faces a near-impossible path to passage in the face of a Republican-controlled Congress and President Trump, who made cracking down on illegal immigration a key campaign promise. Lawmakers haven't passed any significant immigration law since 2006.
 
Feinstein said farm owners in California are having trouble finding workers because of the Trump administration's immigration enforcement tactics. 
 
"They tell me they can't find workers, that workers are scared, that they're afraid they're going to be picked up and deported, that they've disappeared, and they tell me that some of them are looking at developing operations on leased land in Mexico," she said.
 
The bill would shield workers and their families with "blue cards" for three years before transitioning them to permanent residency.
 
Feinstein said the bill is nearly identical to the agricultural component in Comprehensive Immigration Reform, adding "it was the one part of the bill that everyone, I felt, agreed to."
 
Shah Kazemi, the owner of the nation's largest mushroom farm, Monterey Mushrooms, said living under fear of deportation is not a "sustainable lifestyle" for agricultural workers.
 
"Due to our ineffective immigration system and the Trump administration’s mass deportation force, we are short hundreds of workers on the farm," said Kazemi.
 
According to the Department of Labor's annual National Agricultural Workers Survey, only 53 percent of crop workers in 2016 were authorized to work in the country.
  
The U.S. food industry has a choice, Kazemi said: "We have to import our food or import our labor."
 
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a prominent immigration advocate who will push the bill in the House, said "foreign hands" are going to pick food sold in the United States whether that food is picked in the country or abroad.
 
"I want them to pick it here, but I want them to pick it here protected by our labor laws," he said.
  
Despite the bill's slim chance of passing, Gutiérrez said Democrats would seek Republican support for the proposal.
 
"Here's what we're going to do first and foremost: engage our Democratic colleagues to expand the support that our farmworker community has, but we are absolutely going to reach out to Republicans," said Gutiérrez.
 
"We could pass this bill today if they simply gave us a vote. That's how many Republicans exist that are our allies in this fight," he said.