Odelia Chávez, a 40-year-old single mother from Madera, is optimistic that immigration reform will lead to a better future for her and her three children. The undocumented farmworker worries, however, that if penalties are too high, she will be unable to change her residency status.
Leaders of California's rich agricultural industry said they will be happy that their workforce -- which is estimated to be more than 70 percent undocumented -- will finally "come out of the shadows." But, they remain worried about a reliable supply of workers should the suddenly legalized farmworkers decide to work elsewhere.
The concerns by Chávez and the ag leaders are not based on any concrete legislation, which has yet to be drawn up and debated in Congress. That is why they are hoping to make their voices heard in the future debate of what to do with an estimated 11 million undocumented residents, most of them Latino.
The ag industry is among those that will be heavily impacted by what happens with immigration reform. Farmers have complained about a tight labor supply that has threatened their crops. In southeastern states like Alabama that have adopted stringent anti-immigrant laws, farmers found that workers fled the state and left crops unpicked.
"I hope they take us farmworkers more into account," said Chávez, who is originally from Oaxaca.
Chávez is not worried that farmworkers will be left out of the immigration debate. She appeared at a press conference organized by the United Farm Workers to push for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
"We have leaders in our community, and we know they will work very hard," said Chávez.
More importantly, Chávez would like to go visit her mother in Oaxaca for the first time in five years. "It's just as difficult for 11 million others like me to go see their loved ones because of tight border security," she said. "We would come out of the shadows."
Reform would mean she could go to school and help her children, two of whom were born in the U.S.
The major concern Chávez has is what kind of penalty will eventually be imposed on people like her. She already pays state and federal income taxes. The amount of a penalty, which has been discussed by a group of eight U.S. Senators as a condition for legal status, has not been revealed.
It is is $1,000 or $2,000, Chávez believes it is fair.
"But if it is $10,000 or $15,000, it would be very hard," said Chávez.
Many people have stereotypes of the undocumented, especially when it comes to paying taxes and following other regulations. Not true, she said.
"I have my DMV plates updated, I pay my water bill. I'm more familiar with the regulations of this country than of those in México," said Chávez.
UFW national vice-president Armando Elenes said immigration reform must include language that protects the rights of guestworkers should a visa program be part of the agreement.
"We'd prefer there not be a guestworker program, but if there is, there should be protections," said Elenes.
That point was stressed by UFW President Arturo S. Rodríguez, who was joined by several San Joaquín Valley farmworkers in Las Vegas for last Tuesday's announcement by President Obama that he supports the general outline of the Senators' immigration reform plan.
California farmers have worked with the UFW to push for the AgJOBS bill, which would give farmworkers legal status. In recent years, they have pointed out a lack of workers due to a tighter border. They have also pushed back on a mandatory e-Verify program they claim does not function well.
Diego Olagaray, a 51-year-old wine grape grower in Lodi, told the Los Ángeles Times that immigration reform will make it easier for workers from México to travel back to their country.
Currently, when they travel, "they're fearful of something happening to them. With amnesty, it'll make them feel more comfortable," said Olagaray. "They'll also feel that they're part of society. And, it will make it easier for employers as well."