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 House chairwoman diagnosed with 'presumed' coronavirus infection Capitol officials extend suspension of tourist access until May MORE (R-Fla.), Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHillicon Valley: Coronavirus tracking sparks surveillance concerns | Target delivery workers plan Tuesday walkout | Federal agency expedites mail-in voting funds to states | YouTube cracks down on 5G conspiracy videos House Republican pushes for bipartisan cooperation on elections during coronavirus crisis Hillicon Valley: FCC chief proposes 0M telehealth program | Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus| Whole Foods workers plan Tuesday strike MORE (D-Calif.), Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseGOP lawmaker introduces bipartisan guest worker bill Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain GOP lawmaker accuses administration of 'playing politics' with Yucca Mountain reversal MORE (R-Wash.), Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonSNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection MORE (D-Minn.), Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation Lawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa MORE (D-Calif.), Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonMLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers MORE (R-Idaho), and Doug LaMalfaDouglas (Doug) LaMalfaHouse lawmakers advocate to preserve medical funding for underserved, rural areas Overnight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House passes Protecting America's Wilderness Act 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 HoyerProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House 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 RodgersOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns The myth about Puerto Rican statehood that won't go away 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 NunesCalifornia governor responds to Nunes on canceling school: 'We'll continue to listen to the experts' Nunes claims it would be 'way overkill' to cancel school year in California due to coronavirus Trump steps up intensity in battle with media MORE (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor and strong supporter of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill 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."