Nine years ago, the United Farm Workers and California agriculture representatives met to figure out how to accommodate each other over the issue of immigration reform.
Since then, the rivals have worked together -- unsuccessfully -- to get Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill, which would lead to legalization of workers in an industry where up to 80 percent of laborers are undocumented.
Now, following the sudden interest of Republicans to tackle an issue that has driven Latino voters in droves to the Democrats, the AgJOBS legislation appears to be gaining interest in Congress.
"The UFW wants Congress to approve the AgJOBS bill, or include legislation that addresses farmworkers' needs as part of an immigration reform package," said UFW President Arturo S. Rodríguez after meeting with President Obama last Tuesday.
AgJOBS would allow farmworkers who are currently in the U.S. working in the fields to gain legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. The legislation includes a temporary work program for future flow of ag workers.
"It's an exciting moment for the UFW and many pro-immigrant groups, unions and members of the clergy who have been fighting for years to achieve an immigration reform," said Rodríguez in a an e-mail response to questions.
"The president and lawmakers of both parties are starting to get serious about finding a solution that works for America," said Rodríguez. "The Latino vote was definitely a key factor in this shift of mentality in Washington."
The UFW, said Rodríguez, will have marches to keep the pressure on politicians. The union is also negotiating with ag leaders over what immigration reform should look like.
"We would endorse a proposal that clearly spells out a commitment to strong labor protections as part of any future flow program and allowing temporary workers who have worked in this country for many years to earn green cards," said Rodríguez.
Rodríguez said he was pleased to see the strong action being taken by Obama.
"I was really excited to hear the president prepared to introduce his own legislation, which would include a way for farmworkers and other hard-working Americans to earn legal status and have a roadmap to citizenship, if Congress fails to act," said Rodríguez.
In other immigration-related news:
The ACLU filed a lawsuit to block a portion of Alabama's immigration law requiring state officials to publicly post an online list of residents who may be undocumented.
"This part of Alabama's anti-immigrant law represents an unfortunate effort to bully and intimidate immigrants into leaving Alabama," said Kristi Graunke, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which joined the lawsuit against the so-called "scarlet letter" provision.
A survey by the Center for Immigration Studies shows that 52 percent of Americans prefer that undocumented residents in the U.S. return to their home country versus 33 percent who said they should be given legal status.
Dr. Steven Camarota, the center's director of research, said the reason the poll contrasts with other surveys that show the public supports immigration reform that includes a path to legal status is the wording.
"Poll wording matters," he said. "Most post-election polls on immigration policy have given the public the false choice of conditional legalization or mass deportations."