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Senators' Immigration Framework Offers Ag Provisions

Bipartisan legislators include agriculture in plans to craft a new immigration policy

Published on: Jan 29, 2013

Eight bipartisan legislators Monday unveiled immigration reform framework to provide immigrants a path to citizenship, improve agricultural worker programs and strengthen border security.

The group included four Democrats and four Republicans – Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., John McCain, R-Ariz., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin said the process of earning citizenship would be "tough, but fair," insisting the group of lawmakers was committed to fixing the "broken" immigration system.

Ag worker program key provision

Bipartisan legislators include agriculture in plans to craft a new immigration policy
Bipartisan legislators include agriculture in plans to craft a new immigration policy

While those in the country illegally will go through the process of earning citizenship by meeting requirements, young people who came here as children will be given a chance to earn citizenship with less stringent requirements, Durbin said.

A key portion of the proposed outline includes employment provisions.  The legislators plan to create an "effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers."

Further, the Senators intend to protect workers' rights by creating a program that would meet the needs of the agriculture industry, including dairy, through allowing employers to hire immigrants if American workers are not available to fill open positions.

The newly-formed Agriculture Workforce Coalition praised the measure, calling it an "important first step" in creating meaningful immigration legislation.

"The Agriculture Workforce Coalition is heartened that the group's principles recognize the unique labor needs of production agriculture and the vital role that immigrant farm workers play in feeding all Americans," the group said in a statement Monday.

AWC noted that a guest worker program is necessary for the ag industry.

"[L]egislation must address our future workforce needs with a modern guest worker visa program, in addition to providing an adjustment in immigration status for current experienced workers," AWC's statement said.

"Quite simply, American agriculture as we know it would not be possible without the contributions of more than 1.5 million hired workers each year. As such, the Senate principles reflect a major step in the right direction, " AWC added.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman reiterated in a statement Tuesday the vital role immigrant laborers play in tending American crops and livestock.

"We are encouraged by the bipartisan reform efforts. American agriculture needs a legal and stable workforce and farmers from across our nation are ready to support a solution that reaches that conclusion," he said.

Specifically, the framework would: Allow employers to hire immigrants if it can be demonstrated that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers; Create a workable program to meet the needs of America's agricultural industry, including dairy to find agricultural workers when American workers are not available to fill open positions; Allow more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs, and fewer when our economy is not creating jobs; Protect workers by ensuring strong labor protections; and permit workers who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over many years to earn green cards.

The complete framework can be accessed here.