SALEM, Ohio — An immigration bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate any day, following agreement April 11 between the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (representing employers) and the United Farm Workers (representing employees) on a basic framework regarding agriculture labor provisions.
An estimated 70 percent of the U.S. ag workforce are undocumented workers. Current drafts of the legislation have not yet been made public, but in general are expected to provide a path toward legalization of more immigrant farm workers.
“These successful negotiations will help provide America’s farmers and ranchers a much needed legal labor supply, while paving the way for many farm and ranch workers to obtain legal status,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, in a released statement.
“Ensuring access to a legal workforce is a high priority for AFBF and we are pleased with this first step in the process,” he continued.
The agreement was made with Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Marco Rubio R-Fla., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Michael Bennett, D-Colo., to garner consensus and agreement by all parties.
More to come
Details of the agreement and what will be in the bill are largely unknown to the public at this time. But insiders and farm trade groups say they are optimistic.
“The framework and objectives of this agreement represent a positive step toward providing America’s dairy farmers access to a legal workforce now and in the future,” said Jerry Kozak, president of National Milk Producers Federation.
Kozak said there is a shortage of U.S. workers “willing and able” to perform farm work.The immigration bill has mostly been written by four Republican Senators and four Democratic Senators known collectively as the “Gang of Eight.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. is not among the eight, but hailing from California — a state very dependent on immigrant labor — she has been a vocal supporter.
“I strongly support comprehensive immigration reform. I have voted for it in the past. I support the DREAM Act, and I support an agriculture workers immigration reform bill with an earned path to citizenship,” she said in a released statement.
“I have not seen the details of the bill produced by the bipartisan group of eight senators, but the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has said there will be a hearing on it (April 17), and I look forward to reading the details of the bill.”