It’s been more than three decades since the last immigration reform bill was passed in the U.S.
We are way past due for revisions. Agriculture knows this. Corporate America knows this.
To restart the conversation, Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., introduced the Biden’s administration’s immigration reform proposal, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, in mid-February. Key provisions of the proposed legislation provide pathways to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., along with strengthening labor laws.
Specifically, the bill allows undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years, if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes.
Dreamers, temporary protected status holders and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, all green card holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens. Applicants must have been physically present in the U.S. on or before Jan. 1, 2021.
The legislation also would require the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to form a commission involving labor, employer and civil rights organizations to make recommendations on improving the employment verification process.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are about 2.4 million farmworkers in the U.S., with about 240,000 of those classified as H-2A workers. About half of the workers have work authorizations, and less than one-third of the 2.4 million are estimated to be citizens.
The bill offers a starting point for discussions. Some farm organizations, such as the National Potato Council, noted that the bill does not contain some of provisions it supported in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which passed the U.S. House during the last session of Congress.
Those measures include the creation of a new flexible guest-worker program; a predictable market-based guest-worker wage rate; and legal status for the current workforce to minimize disruption to America’s food supply.
Corporate America also is pushing for immigration reform, specifically for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as the dreamers. Reason? They are the young workers serving on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential workers.
One corporate company human resource manager commented on a newscast that as businesses look toward future economic recovery, they need to look for talent in all places, including pipelines of diverse talent.
Whether or not you agree with the proposed bill, please reach out to your representative and senator to share your experience and opinion on ag labor and immigration. There is opportunity now to make impactful improvements.