CHN: House Vote Boosts Prospects for Immigrant Farmworkers

Undocumented farmworkers and their families could have a path to legal immigration status and citizenship if landmark legislation approved earlier this month by the House becomes law.

On a 260-165 vote, House members approved the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump, would be the first comprehensive agriculture reform legislation passed by Congress in more than three decades. 226 Democrats and 34 Republicans voted for the bill, while 161 Republicans, three Democrats and one independent opposed it. One Democrat voted present.

A path to immigration status for undocumented farmworkers is critically important to the country’s food and agriculture system. A majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented and living in fear of deportation. With legal status and a path to citizenship, farmworkers would be better able to improve their wages and working conditions and challenge serious labor abuses. This would result in a more stable farm labor force, and greater food safety and security to the benefit of employers, workers, and consumers.

The legislation was the result of months of delicate negotiations between representatives of farmworkers and leaders of the agricultural industry. Although many agricultural groups backed the legislation, some – such as the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation – balked, saying it would result in higher labor costs as well as increased legal risk for employers. The bill’s future in the Senate is uncertain.

Nonetheless, advocates praised the legislation as an extraordinary breakthrough.

“Achieving compromise on complex, polarizing labor-management and immigration issues was possible because of the wide recognition that farmworkers are essential to our nation’s food and agriculture systems,” said Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice. “Our nation’s immigration system is broken and results in great unfairness, as over one-half of the 2.4 million people who labor on our farms and ranches to feed us are undocumented immigrants. This bill, despite shortcomings that are inevitable in any compromise, is a responsible effort to fix our broken immigration system and enable many farmworkers and their families to gain a greater measure of justice.”

The House bill was sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA). The compromise measure includes important new protections for immigrant farmworkers, such as granting them the same legal protections that U.S. farmworkers have.