Senator Feinstein Calls for Inclusion of AgJOBS Legislation in Comprehensive Immigration Reform Package
May 15 2007
Washington, DC – Joined at a news conference by growers from across the nation, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today discussed the importance of including AgJOBS legislation in the comprehensive immigration reform package.
AgJOBS is the product of ten years of negotiations. The bi-partisan legislation is supported by both growers and farmworkers. AgJOBS would create a five-year pilot program to legalize the immigration status for those who have been working in American agriculture for at least 150 days over the previous two years. It also would reform the current H-2A agricultural guest worker program.
Senator Feinstein was joined at the news conference by dozens of growers and nurserymen. These growers were among the more than 100 members of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR), who have traveled to Washington, DC, this week to call on Congress to pass responsible immigration reform.
The following are Senator Feinstein’s remarks as delivered at today’s news conference:
“I come from a state which is the largest agricultural state in the Union, and that’s California. This season, California in mid-season will need 450,000 agricultural workers.
The fact is that this is the one industry – agriculture, which depends to a great extent on an undocumented, immigrant work force. This is one industry where you need labor to plant, to prune, to fertilize, to pick, and to can. And without that, America ceases to be a major breadbasket. I am very, very concerned.
I’ve worked now with Senator Craig. And last year we passed a bill as part of the immigration bill, which provided a five-year program whereby workers would be able to receive documentation and continue to work. And that work, over a period of time, would enable them to be able to gain a green card. It would establish for agriculture a consistent work force.
It’s called AgJOBS and it has wide support. Right here are the signatures of 880 organizations in support of this legislation. The group assembled here I think is adequate testimony to the fact that this legislation is really necessary.
Now, I can speak for my state. And what’s happening in my state is that some farmers aren’t planting. Others are moving away from high labor crops, like strawberries, like asparagus, like bell peppers. Their fear is that when the time for picking comes, they won’t be able to harvest the crop. And that’s a very serious concern.
California produces 90 percent of the specialty crops for the entire nation. What happens if you can’t harvest, if you can’t prune, if you can’t pick? What happens is: prices for virtually everyone all across this nation will soar. You’ll have people who will not be able to pay their mortgages and you’ll have farms going out of business.
This is a very important bill. Senator Craig and I have remained steadfast in the fact that Ag JOBS, as written, as passed last year, must be part of any immigration bill.
Absent an immigration bill, we feel that we should put it forward as a separate entity, and that it should have an operative date, which would be upon the signature of the President.
Wednesday we go to immigration on the floor of the United States Senate. So, Wednesday is a kind of D-Day. We feel very strongly that this bill which has been negotiated over a 10-year period between the growers, between various farm organizations, between farm workers’ unions should go forward as written. And I am very hopeful for that it will.”
The following is a complete summary of the AgJOBS legislation, which includes both an earned adjustment proposal for agricultural workers and reform of the current H-2A agricultural guest worker program:
Earned Adjustment Proposal for Agricultural Workers
- Pilot program to allow certain undocumented agricultural workers to legalize their immigration status in the United States and to modify the current H2A program.
- The first step requires that undocumented agricultural workers apply for a “blue card” if they can demonstrate that they have worked in American agriculture for at least 150 work days within the previous two years before 12/31/06.
- The second step requires that a “blue card” holder demonstrate that they have worked in American agriculture for an additional 150 work days per year for 3 years, or 100 work days per year for 5 years, then they will be eligible to apply for a green card.
- Employment will be verified through employer issued itemized statements, pay stubs, W-2 forms, employer letters, contracts or agreements, employer sponsored health care, time cards or payment of taxes.
- This program will be capped at 1.5 million blue cards in five years (without a per year cap) and sunset after five years.
- Individuals may participate in employment other than agriculture so long as the worker satisfies the 100 or 150 workdays each year, and if they don’t they will lose their status.
- Blue card holders (including spouses and children) will be allowed to travel in and out of the United States.
- Spouses of blue card workers will be eligible to apply for their own work permit and their employment will not be limited to agricultural employment.
- Aliens participating in the program will be required to pay a fine of $500, show that they are current on their taxes, and that they have not been convicted of any crime that involves bodily injury, the threat of serious bodily injury, or harm to property in excess of $500.
- The Department of Homeland Security will determine the adequate application fee necessary to offset the costs of this pilot program and ensure that blue cards are encrypted, have biometric identifiers and contain other anti-counterfeiting protections.
- To avoid backlogs, aliens who receive a green card under this program will be exempt from the overall numerical limitations on visas (i.e., 675,000 visas) and the country numerical limitations for Mexico, India, China and the Philippines.
H-2A Program Modifications
- The labor certification process, which often takes 60 days or more, is replaced by an “attestation” process. The employer can file a fax-back application form agreeing to abide by the requirements of the H-2A program. Approval should occur in 48 to 72 hours.
- The interstate clearance order to determine whether there are U.S. workers who can qualify for the jobs is replaced by a requirement that the employer file a job notification with the local office of the State Employment Security Agency. Advertising and positive recruitment must take place in the local labor market area.
- Agricultural associations can continue to file applications on behalf of members.
- The statutory prohibition against “adversely affecting” U.S. workers is eliminated. The Adverse Effect Wage Rate is frozen for 3 years while it is studied, and thereafter indexed by a methodology that will lead to its gradual replacement with a prevailing wage standard.
- Employers may elect to provide a housing allowance in lieu of housing if the governor determines that there is adequate rental housing available in the area of employment.
- Inbound and return transportation and subsistence is required on the same basis as under the current program, except that trips of less than 100 miles are excluded, and workers whom an employer is not required to provide housing are excluded.
- The motor vehicle safety standards for U.S. workers are extended to H-2A workers.
- Petitions for admission of H-2A workers must be processed and the consulate or port of entry notified within 7 days of receipt. Requirements are the same as current law.
- Petitions extending aliens’ stay or changing employers are valid upon filing.
- Employers may apply for the admission of new H-2A workers to replace those who abandoned their work or are terminated for cause and the Department of Homeland Security is required to remove H-2A aliens who abandoned their work.
- H-2A visas will be secure and counterfeit resistant.
- A new limited federal right of action is available to foreign workers to enforce the economic benefits required under the H2A program, and any benefits expressly offered by the employer in writing. A statute of limitations of three years is imposed.
- Lawsuits in state court under state contract law alleging violations of the H-2A program requirements and obligations are expressly preempted. Such state court lawsuits have been the venue of choice for litigation against H-2A employers in recent years.