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Local farm groups back new immigration bill

Local farm groups back new immigration bill

Central Valley groups coalesce to support compromise House of Representatives bill providing legal status to farmworkers currently in the U.S.

By John Lindt
Sierra 2 the Sea News Service

CENTRAL VALLEY – Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, Valley farm bureaus and California Citrus Mutual are supporting a new compromise bill being introduced in the House of Representatives that would allow undocumented farmworkers currently working in the US to gain legal status along with their spouses and children.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA 19), a Democrat from San Jose and chair of the Judiciary Committee, was expected to introduce her bill last week.

Manuel Cunha, Jr., President of Nisei Farmers League praised representative Lofgren.

“Congresswoman Lofgren has worked tirelessly and is committed to getting much-needed immigration reform, which has been long over-due.  She is working with other representatives in our Valley, including Congressmen Jim Costa [D-CA 16], Jimmy Panetta [D-CA 20] and Doug LaMalfa [R-CA 1], who also believe our hard-working laborers and their families must feel safe and be granted legal status,” Cunha said.

Reports say Democrats hope they can broker a deal with Republicans that would grant legal status to farmworkers currently in the country illegally that would require employers to verify the immigration status of all future hires.

Cunha says the bill is being co-sponsored by 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans. There is a Fresno news conference Wednesday where backers will gather.

Supporters hope the compromise could draw GOP backing by requiring employers to use E-Verify, a federal online system, ensuring farmworkers are eligible to work, said David Shahoulian, the Democratic chief counsel on the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee, speaking at an immigration policy conference earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

Farmers now are not required to investigate claims of legal status in most states and don’t want to if their existing workforce is not protected. But Cunha says if the bill passes he is okay with using E-Verify.

Cunha’s office is working the phones this week to lineup Valley backing for the measure and so far Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, California Fresh Fruit Association, the Growers & Shippers Association and the African American Farmers of California have all signed along with the California Farm Bureau and the county farm burueas of Tulare, Madera and Stanislaus Farm Bureau, as of press time.

He expects the UFW will support it. As many as 150 ag groups nationwide are expected to back the measure.

“California farm groups think of our workers as family” and want to give them a chance to keep their jobs and their family here,” Cunha said.

If this succeeds it would give a path to citizenship to a large group of farmworkers for the first time since President Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 80s, when tougher enforcement was also added. Farmworkers would get deportation protection followed by eventual legal status if they keep working.

Some details in the bill:

• Applicants must show at least 180 days of agricultural employment over the last 2 years.

• Five year renewable visas – Individuals can renew their 5-year visas by working at least 100 days in agriculture each year. Those who have ag experience but do not meet the criteria for eligibility are provided the option of applying for H-2A visas.

• Option for Permanent Resident Status – Individuals have the opportunity to but are not required to earn Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status. Those applying for LPR status must pay a $1,000 fine and meet other criteria.

• This bill would improve the H-2A visa program to work for all of production agriculture.

Cunha says he estimates there are 1.4 million people in ag who might qualify. The undocumented population in Tulare County has been estimated by the U.S. Census at 36,500.

In the past, 82% of Californians have supported the idea but a strong minority of voters believe undocumented people here should leave.

California Senator Diane Feinstein has a similar measure in the Senate. Cunha says he hopes the new farmworker measure would pass both the House and Senate and be signed by President Trump. “I think he will sign it,” Cunha added.

Cunha says a package of three bills could come out of the Senate including this one as well as a Dreamer’s bill and a Temporary Protected Status bill allowing immigrants from a particular country to stay and work in the US legally when their home country has been hit with war or natural disaster.

More Valley ag groups are likely to support the farmworker plan to insure they have a legal workforce to harvest their perishable crops and retain their long-time workers. Many who face labor shortages say it’s one more reason more farmers are exasperated and ready to hang it up, added to their complaints of low crop prices, stricter regulations and higher costs.

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