Several Valley congressional representatives helped introduce a bipartisan bill Wednesday they say is geared toward providing a path to legal status for more than 250,000 undocumented California farm workers.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would update regulations for temporary workers, promise fair wages for farm workers and fund farm worker housing. The bill provides a path to legal status for workers who can prove they’ve worked in agriculture in the past and will continue working in ag in the future, according to a news release.
The legislation was introduced in Washington, D.C. by co-sponsors Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno; Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel; Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock and others.
Costa said the act is the result of an effort he has been engaged in for years.
“It is long overdue to fix this broken immigration system throughout the country,” he said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform. This is an important first step to deal with the agricultural workforce in California and throughout the country that’s so essential to our San Joaquin Valley.”
He hopes the bill will pass the House by the end of the year and is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein to build Republican support in the senate. Current Republican congressional supporters of the bill include Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson and Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse.
Costa said he hopes the bipartisan support will persuade President Donald Trump to support it.
Lawmakers and industry leaders alike lauded the effort from Republicans, Democrats, labor groups and farmers to come to a compromise — something that’s rare in today’s divisive political climate.
The bill could prove vital for Central Valley farmers who face a labor shortage as President Donald Trump’s administration cracks down on immigration. In the last few years, Valley ag businesses have seen a spike in orders for audits and arrests of workers by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“This legislation is critical to the sustainability of the fresh produce industry and our continued ability to grow fresh and healthy citrus products in California,” said Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual, in a statement. “The existing system is out-of-date and does not meet the needs of employers or employees. We must put aside political differences and create a reasonable solution.”
Tom Nassif, CEO and president of Western Growers, said the bill simplifies wage formulas and streamlines the application process for temporary workers.
It also gives growers a system to employ legal workers.
“People think we want to have illegal workers and we’re against e-verify,” he said. “That’s farthest from the truth. We’ve always said we should have e-verify and we don’t believe (undocumented immigrants) should be able to work. But you have to give us a legal workforce and immigration reform to do that.”
The pathway for farm workers to become legal residents also provides them the opportunity to become farmers, Cox said.
“They can come out of the shadows, work here and pay taxes. It gives them the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said. “This was a priority for me because there are people in my district who may go the rest of their lives without seeing family outside the U.S. because they’re in fear of being picked up for being undocumented.”