Thursday, October 24, 2013

House may act on farmworker immigration bills

The issue of immigration reform—making a way for undocumented workers (including farm workers) to gain legal status and perhaps citizenship—has gained new momentum in Congress after a Senate-passed bill stalled in the House. President Obama and White House staffers called House offices asking to move legislation. The House, leaders of which have said it would not pass an omnibus bill, may attempt to finish two of the bills, H.R. 1773 and H.R. 1772 before 2014, Agri-Pulse reports.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., wrote both bills. H.R. 1773 would allow admit 500,000 temporary agricultural laborers each year. H.R. 1772 would require all employers to use E-Verify, a federal work-authorization program that is now voluntary for non-federal employers.

Goodlatte hopes the House will pass the bills this year. The United Farm Workers and other immigration-reform groups have staged more and more protests across the nation. UFW brought together some California farm workers to deliver 8,000 signed letters advocating reform to Rep. Kevin McCarthy. "As majority whip and California's most powerful Republican, Congressman McCarthy not only has the power but a duty to represent one of California's leading industries," UFW Vice President Armando Elenes told Agri-Pulse.

Not everyone agrees with the proposed reforms. More than "100 groups representing workers and immigrant, civil rights and faith communities wrote to Congress Tuesday to state their opposition to H.R. 1772," Agri-Pulse reports. They said the reform wouldn't fix the immigration system; it would decrease worker protection and threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and authorized workers.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said, "Not one single person should lose his or her job because of a government error or an employer's failure to follow the program's rules. Before this legislation is rushed to the House floor, our representatives should listen to the stories of real people who have suffered greatly due to errors in the databases on which E-Verify relies."

Companies would have from six months to two years to comply with the bill, depending on the number of employees. Farmers would have five years to comply with an E-Verify mandate, Agri-Pulse reports. Along with this, the Senate bill (S. 744) passed four months ago will help establish a blue card program for experienced farm workers.

"The new H-2C visa program included in Goodlatte's guestworker bill would allow workers to stay in the United States for up to 18 months, as opposed to the maximum of one year issued to current H-2A visa holders." (Read more)

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