September 26, 2003

Democrats & Republicans In House and Senate Put Forth Historic Farmworker Immigration Legislation

Washington, DC – Bipartisan, bicameral legislation was announced in Washington by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) that will help address the lack of legal immigration status pervasive in the agricultural sector of the economy. 

“From a policy perspective, this is critically important, and a necessary step towards reforming immigration issues impacting the rest of the economy,” said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum.

“From a political perspective, it is an unprecedented breakthrough that could set the stage for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform for the rest of the country.”

The Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJobs Act) was worked out in lengthy negotiations between business and labor and would address key aspects of immigration in that sector.  If enacted, it would provide a path towards eventual legalization for undocumented agricultural workers who can prove they have worked in the agricultural industry and will continue to work in that industry. It is estimated that half of the 1.6 million agricultural workers in the U.S. are undocumented. The bill will also streamline the existing foreign agricultural worker program so that agricultural employers have legal means to employ future workers. 

“While legalizing undocumented agricultural workers is long overdue and ground-breaking, it needs to be put in perspective,” said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum. “We have more than 7 million undocumented immigrants here, working, paying taxes, and raising their families, and we need to do something to address their legal status as well.”

Kelley pointed out that the agricultural industry has always operated with distinct laws and regulations from the rest of the economy.  She said, however, that this may be a steppingstone to broader immigration reforms.

“For comprehensive reform, we need to expand the legal channels that reunite families and allow workers to be matched up with jobs legally – regardless of their industry,” Kelley said.  “At the same time, we must address the legal status of those who are already working and contributing and want to get on a path to permanent legal status.”

For Kelley, the extraordinary bipartisan nature of the legislation gives her hope for broader immigration reforms.

“The fact that agricultural employers and the farmworkers union, Republicans and Democrats, and the House and the Senate have joined together to address the agricultural immigration reform agenda is historic,” Kelley said. “We are hopeful that this same bipartisan, business-labor spirit of cooperation will extend to the comprehensive reform needed for the rest of the economy.  We need to do it for the safety and dignity of the hard working immigrants who are vital to our nation’s future. So far, the broad interest in enhancing national security, strengthening economic security, and restructuring immigration laws so that they are fair and enforceable seems to be progressing.”

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