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Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill

Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill
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A bipartisan group of House members revealed an immigration bill to prop up the dwindling agricultural labor base by regularizing the status of foreign-born workers.

The bill, presented by Reps. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartBottom line GOP lawmakers ask Biden administration for guidance on reopening cruise industry The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Biden delivers 100 million shots in 58 days, doses to neighbors MORE (R-Fla.), Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThis week: House to vote on Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission Capitol Police watchdog calls for boosting countersurveillance This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseHouse lawmakers unveil bill to end ban on Postal Service shipments of alcohol Republicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost Overnight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure's climate plans won't survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July's end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change MORE (R-Wash.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (D-Minn.), Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaHillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit Lawmakers introduce legislation to create civilian reserve program to fight hackers To encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision MORE (D-Calif.), Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonOvernight Energy: Biden reportedly will pledge to halve US emissions by 2030 | Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce Green New Deal resolution House passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers Marjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP MORE (R-Idaho), and Doug LaMalfaDouglas (Doug) LaMalfaGrowing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Interior ends endangered species protections for gray wolves MORE (R-Calif.) has the support of 24 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

“The success of our farmers, growers and producers is essential not only for our economy but for our national security," said Diaz-Balart, the lead Republican on the bill. "For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A visa system, making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people."

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The bill would allow foreign agricultural workers who've worked in the sector for at least 180 days over the past two years to request five-year visas for themselves, their spouses and their minor children.

In order to renew their visas after five years, workers would have to prove they've worked at least 100 days in agriculture per year.

The bill would also allow a path to legal permanent status – which itself grants a path to citizenship – for previously-undocumented agricultural workers who pay a $1,000 fine.

Workers with more than 10 years of agricultural service at the time of enactment would need to work another four years in agriculture to obtain legal permanent status, and workers with less than 10 years experience would need to accumulate a further eight years to qualify.

To that end, the bipartisan agreement would create 40,000 green cards per year for agricultural workers.

The bill also simplifies the existing H-2A program for visiting guest workers ineligible for the new program.

On the enforcement end, the bill would make the E-Verify program universal and compulsory for all agricultural work nationwide.

Some lawmakers have pushed E-Verify as the No. 1 solution to reduce undocumented labor in the United States; however, the program, which essentially checks work applications against a database to establish a worker's legal status, has drawn criticism from both the left and the right for privacy issues, effectiveness and putting the onus of legal immigration status fully on workers rather than employers.

Under the new bill, E-Verify would only be mandatory for agricultural work and would be implemented in phases, with due process protections for incorrectly flagged workers.

The bipartisan agreement was hashed out over months of talks after farmers reached out to lawmakers on both sides demanding more access to labor.

Rep. Luis Correa (D-Calif.) told The Hill that poultry producers reached out to him after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Mississippi in August led to the arrest of more than 600 undocumented workers in seven plants.

Correa said poultry producers and others in the agricultural industry were unable to fill the jobs, leading them to cut production in some cases.

"And that was the impetus. So, the lesson here is it took a crisis," Correa said. "California farmers are also in desperate need – a lot of these farmers need these workers, and that's what really motivated this bill to move ahead."

The bill has yet to obtain backing from Democratic leadership, but it's likely to receive widespread approval from Democrats.

Majority Leader Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerWhat's a party caucus chair worth? House fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (D-Md.) told The Hill that Lofgren has discussed the bill with him, but he hasn't reviewed its content yet.

Republicans on the bill include Western and Midwestern members from heavily agricultural districts whose constituencies depend on foreign labor.

"I am very encouraged with the negotiation and the product that has been brought forward that includes E-Verify with the guest worker program and I think that it needs to happen," said Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersFive takeaways from new CDC guidance on going maskless GOP votes to replace Cheney with Stefanik after backing from Trump Stefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts MORE (R-Wash.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "It's long overdue."

The bill parts with the paradigm of tying immigration benefits to funding increased border and interior enforcement, relying instead on E-Verify.

But Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHillicon Valley: Parler's return to Apple store poses new challenges | Biden revokes Trump-era order targeting shield for website operators Trump DOJ subpoenaed Twitter for identity behind Nunes parody account Sunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans MORE (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor and strong supporter of President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE, downplayed the notion that the bill represents a new way of negotiating immigration bills.

"Go back and look at all the conversations since '03," he told The Hill. "There have been bills just like this and they never go anywhere."