Eight Senators Tuesday revealed a summary of the first sweeping proposal to reform immigration laws in the U.S. since 2007, providing farmworkers and their employers with a look at how new legislation may affect agriculture.
The "gang of eight" – Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. – have been working on the plan behind closed doors since the beginning of the year.
Among the key policy priorities of the agriculture industry are a comprehensive work visa program, a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., and a separate process towards legalization and citizenship for farm workers.
Senators reveal immigration proposal summary; Senate Judiciary Committee will hear reaction Friday
In the summary, Senators propose a "W-Visa" program for guest workers, starting in 2015. The program would allow immigrants to remain in the U.S. for three years, and cannot work in areas with high unemployment rates.
Also part of the proposal, the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act would allow current undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status through an agricultural card program. The card would be available to undocumented workers who have made a prior commitment to agricultural work. If certain requirements are met, card holders may then transition to legal permanent resident status.
Specifically, the summary says a portable, at-will employment based visa (W-3) and a contract-based visa (W-2) would replace the current H-2A program.
Summary follows Friday agreement
The Agricultural Workforce Coalition, the United Farm Workers and a collection of Senators Friday ironed out details that will likely become clearer as a full immigration proposal is unveiled. That agreement includes provisions on farm worker wage levels, caps on agricultural guest worker visas and protections for U.S. workers.
The compromise was led by Sens. Rubio, Bennet, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.