USA TODAY

May 9, 2017

 

Feinstein bill would prevent farmworker deportation

 

By Bartholomew Sullivan

 

WASHINGTON - Lourdes Cardenas, who has picked grapes in Fresno County for 14 years, wants some assurance she won’t be separated from her family or continue to “live in fear” of deportation as a worker in the country without legal permission.

That’s why she — speaking through a translator — joined other migrant workers, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez on a conference call Tuesday endorsing a bill introduced last week. The legislation would give undocumented farm workers a “blue” card after they prove they have worked 100 days over the past two years in agriculture, shielding them from deportation.

The Agricultural Worker Program Act would allow those workers to get a green card, with legal work status, after three years. After five years with a green card, it would provide a legal path to apply for citizenship. Co-sponsors are Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

“Wherever I go in California,” said Feinstein, speaking of farm operators, “they tell me they can’t find workers. ... It’s a fact of life that most ag workers are undocumented.”

Gutierrez called farmworkers some of the “hardest-working and most vulnerable” people and said they are essential for meeting the country’s food needs.

Others on the call included Centralia, Washington, dairy worker Sagrario Arellano, also speaking through a translator, who said farmworkers want to “completely come out of the shadows.” The call was moderated by United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez.

Watsonville-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc. President Shah Kazemi said his employees have heard about last month's arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents of 12 mushroom workers in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and now live with a “fear factor” about mass deportations.

Kazemi said labor shortages have resulted in production cutbacks of 12 percent at company facilities in California, 15 percent in Illinois and 6 percent in Florida, with cutbacks contemplated at the company’s operations in Texas.

Most of the evidence of farmworker shortages is anecdotal, although there are some indications that wages have increased marginally in response, said Bruce Goldstein, president of the Washington-based advocacy group Farmworker Justice. The number of H-2A visas for specialty foreign agricultural workers has also increased recently, he noted.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which promotes the interests of family farms and ranches, has not taken a position on the Feinstein-Harris bill, said its spokesman, Dave Kranz, who was not on the call Tuesday. But the federation is monitoring developments.

“The California Farm Bureau Federation appreciates the introduction of Senator Feinstein’s Agricultural Worker Program Act,” federation President Paul Wenger said in a statement Tuesday. “Sen. Feinstein revisited a component of the bipartisan compromise legislation from 2013, by re-introducing the blue card provision of that bill. It is by no means the complete solution, which must address future workflow through a temporary worker visa program and H-2A reform. But after years of congressional inaction and continued employee shortages on California farms, this bill begins the process of advancing the immigration reform debate in the 115th Congress.”

Added Wenger: “Farm Bureau encourages President Trump and congressional leaders from both parties to enact immigration legislation that addresses farmers’ need for a legal, stable workforce.”