For the second time in two years, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act was passed by the House on Thursday.
The bill was passed in a 247-174 vote, with Rep. Josh Harder voting to approve the legislation his office believes provides “a smart and humane solution to the temporary farm worker system in the Central Valley.”
The bill was first passed in late 2019 and was reintroduced during the current 117th Congress; it gives qualified farmworkers the chance to earn visas, improves the H-2A visa program to help the dairy industry and gives undocumented agricultural workers a chance to earn legal status.
“Our immigration system was designed by folks in Washington with less than zero understanding of the needs of our ag community and our farmworkers. It’s time we update our system so our farmers can hire the workers they need, and our workers can get right with the law,” Harder said. “This bill is a win-win for our workforce and our ag industry, not to mention its impact on keeping our communities whole.”
According to Harder’s office, the Congressman has heard from dozens of farmers about the devastating effects of labor shortages. He’s also heard from farmworkers themselves, who have called for a more humane immigration system. The immigration reform bill is targeted specifically at the agriculture industry and is the product of months-long negotiations between members of both parties, including Harder, immigration and labor advocates and agriculture organizations.
Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Executive Director Wayne Zipser said he had traveled to Washington, DC at least once to meet with Harder and advocate for the bill. He hasn’t had a chance to review the most-recent document, he said, but the SCFB shared a statement from the California Farm Bureau earlier this month in support of the legislation.
Now that the bill has passed the House, the CFB has called on the Senate to begin the process of moving the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk. Senate action would further recognize the essential work farm employees have performed during the COVID-19 pandemic, CFB President Jamie Johansson said.
“The men and women who work on farms and ranches have shown dedication to their jobs and to their communities during an extremely trying time,” he said. “Everyone in the country has benefited from that dedication. Farmers and farm employees need a legislative solution that will help assure farms and ranches retain the flexibility to respond to changing demands for safe, healthy food and farm products.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act includes three main components.
First, the bill will establish a program for undocumented agriculture workers to get right with the law and earn legal status through continued work in agriculture. In return, it will require workers to undergo biometric screenings and prevent these workers from getting access to certain government programs.
It also improves the H-2A visa program. H-2A visas are specifically designated for use by agriculture workers. The current system is full of red tape and only applies to seasonal workers, harming dairy farms, which operate year-round. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act will reduce the time and costs associated with getting access to a legal source of immigrant labor. It will also make the program more flexible for dairy farmers.
The bill would also make the use of the E-Verify system mandatory specifically for the agriculture sector. E-Verify requires employers to check on the legal status of their immigrant workers.