Legislation proposed Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to give undocumented farmworkers more protections. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will provide undocumented workers a path to legal residency, and for those who want it, citizenship.
Several congressional representatives helped introduce the bill including many from the Valley: 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 from outside the state including Republican supporters Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson and Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse.
“They know that agriculture is in a serious situation,” said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League. “We’ve got to have a workforce because we have to feed the world. We’ve got to feed the United States, and this industry has had an issue for years, with its documentation of its workers.”
He says the bill incorporates much needed revisions to the H2-A visa program, and allows for petition of spouses and children to be granted legal status. He also says it could serve as a template to regulate undocumented workers in other industries.
“It’s over 30 years overdue for trying to deal with this one industry, at least,” he said. “I’m excited for the first real movement. We’ve got 200 ag groups signed onto this.”
The bill has bipartisan support from lawmakers in D.C., the backing of the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation, and industry groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation.
“This comprehensive legislation contains key elements that address current and future workforce needs for agricultural employers and employees in California and throughout the nation,” Jamie Johansson, president of the farm bureau, said in a statement. “The reforms in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 will provide much-needed solutions for agricultural employers and employees.”
The act is also supported by California Citrus Mutual. "We applaud Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and members of the California congressional delegation that provided leadership on this critical issue," CCM President Casey Creamer said in a statement. "The Farm Workforce Modernization Act creates a pathway to securing a legal workforce now and in the future while also providing stability and security to our employees and their families.”
A UC Davis study estimates that more than half of the state’s 420,000 farmworkers are undocumented. Many of them reside in the San Joaquin Valley.