Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Thursday kicked off committee markup of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, the senate's version of immigration reform.
The bill includes provisions specific to agriculture that were developed through cooperation of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition and the United Farm Workers, groups that largely represent agricultural employers and employees, respectively.
Specifically, agricultural provisions in the senate version of the bill include a "W-Visa" program for guest workers that would allow immigrants to remain in the U.S. for three years. It also includes a special pathway to citizenship for agricultural workers.
In a joint statement, UFW and AWC expressed appreciation for Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who helped the groups craft an agreement for "gang of eight" consideration.
"Agriculture—both employers and workers—stand united in support of the agriculture provisions contained in S. 744, and we look forward to working with Congress throughout this process," UFW and AWC wrote.
Legislators have already participated in six hearings regarding provisions of the bill. Full text has been available since early April.
In opening statements, Leahy noted that he planned to move the process along and report the bill "in the next couple of weeks." Markup is expected to continue next Tuesday and Thursday, Friday if needed. More than 300 amendments are up for consideration.
Ag immigration legislation was also introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., last month, though it was met with criticism from the UFW, which said the House proposal would transform the farm labor force into a system of temporary workers without meaningful protections.
Similarly, AFW stood behind the senate version, explaining that while it was an important first step, the group valued working with the UFW to keep the principles already agreed upon in the senate version at the forefront.
No specific dates have been announced for House action on its version of ag immigration policy.
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