Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Nearly Half A Million California Farmworkers Could Gain Legal Status Under New Bill

Cover image for podcast episode

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week — with 30 Republicans joining and all but one Democrat voting yes. It’s the latest attempt in a decades-long effort to stabilize the agricultural workforce.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This month, the us house of representatives passed a farm workforce modernization act. It's passed by the Senate. The bill could give legal status to roughly half a million farm workers in California. K Q E D central Valley correspondent. Alex Hall has the story

Speaker 2: 00:17 In a citrus orchard West of Fresno, Joni Garrido, quickly clips mandarins from a branch and drops them into a large canvas bag, strapped to his waist. Other workers climb ladders to reach higher fruit and make conversation between the tree tops. Perio says throughout the pandemic, he and the other workers couldn't shelter at home. Who does the word? Yes, we do. He says he's worked on us farms without legal status for five years. And another man says he's worked in the country for 18. It's not just in California. He says in every state you see immigrant farm workers under the farm workforce, bill cardio and others employed in agriculture for at least six months. Over the past two years could be eligible for work permits. And if they've done this work an authorized four years as roughly half of the country's farm workers have, they could get a green card. If they continue in the industry, HR 1603, a bill to amend the immigration and nationality act last week, house members debated and ultimately passed the bill. Speaking on the house floor, Congresswoman Zoloft, grin pointed out how throughout the pandemic Americans were still able to find food at the grocery store.

Speaker 1: 01:37 And for that, we need to thank the farmers of this country, but we also need to thank the farm workers of this country. A majority of whom are undocumented, a majority of whom have been here more than 10 years,

Speaker 2: 01:51 But some representatives argued that the bill would only encourage more migrants to come to the U S here's Republican Congressman Jody Hice of Georgia.

Speaker 1: 02:01 A piece of legislation that says, just come work on a farm, and we're going to give you amnesty. 1.5 million people are going to become citizens for working minimal time. On

Speaker 2: 02:13 In fact only people already working in agriculture would qualify for legal status. The bill would also require all ag employers to adopt. E-Verify a system for checking authorization to work in the us. Some Republican support. The bill Congressman David validate represents California's 21st district, not far from the citrus Grove, where Kareo was hired, he's working to bring Republican senators on.

Speaker 3: 02:40 So there's a lot of States with Republican senators that have a lot of ag and you've got Florida, you've got South Carolina, you've got North Carolina.

Speaker 2: 02:48 Oh, says the bill is good for growers. And that it reworks the H two, a guest worker visa program, long criticized as expensive and burdensome. And he hopes the Senate can make it even more business friendly.

Speaker 3: 03:01 Especially when you come to smaller farms, they don't have the ability to hire the office personnel needed to get through the regulatory process of hiring H2O folks. We have to make sure it's something that functions for our farmers. And so the whole HTA component, they do modernize it a little bit in this bill. Uh, I don't believe it goes far enough. And I hope that in the Senate that there is, uh, some Republicans that will help make that more doable for, for our farming community.

Speaker 2: 03:25 Although not all farm labor and business groups back the bill, the American farm Bureau Federation is one exception. Raising concerns that it won't allow enough guest workers for year round jobs like those in the dairy industry for Patrick, [inaudible] a third generation farmer in the central Valley. The bill makes sense because it allows growers to legalize their existing workforce.

Speaker 4: 03:49 It eliminates the fear for them to not have a workforce. They want to do the right thing for their workers. And, uh, we depend on each other. We work side by side. Uh, I would not have them do something that I wouldn't do myself

Speaker 2: 04:06 Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republican Mike creepo of Idaho are expected to introduce a companion bill in the Senate soon. They'll need at least nine other GOP senators to avoid a filibuster and move the bill forward.

Speaker 4: 04:22 It's K Q E D central Valley correspondent, Alex Hall reporting.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.