Immigration raids throughout the United States have frightened a lot of undocumented immigrants, especially farm workers. It is estimated that up to 70% of farm workers in California, or about 560,000 people are undocumented immigrants. This is a big problem for the United States because farm workers contribute to the $54 Billion agricultural industry.
If the undocumented farm workers no longer go to work because of fear of arrest, then there would be a substantial lack of manpower to do the necessary job in the farms. Farm labor is essential in ensuring that food is produced and distributed throughout the United States. Hence, addressing the immigration problems within the agricultural industry is important for the continued success of the farm industry in America.
On May 3, 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California proposed the “Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017.” The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Kamala Harris of California. This bill proposes giving legal status to undocumented immigrant farm workers. Under the bill which provides for a two-step process, the undocumented immigrant farm worker must comply with certain requirements in order to get temporary residence and eventually a green card. The bill also removes the fines that farm employers face when undocumented immigrants are caught on their premises or it is proven that undocumented immigrants work for them.
First, the undocumented immigrant farm worker must apply for a “Blue Card.” The “Blue Card” grants temporary residency and employment authorization to the undocumented immigrant farm worker. The undocumented immigrant farm worker must apply for the “Blue Card” during the one-year application period after the regulations for the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 are published. To qualify, the undocumented immigrant farm worker must prove his employment in the agricultural industry of the United States for at least 100 work days over the last two years, and that he is not excluded by certain immigration laws. He must complete national security and law enforcement clearances. He must not have been convicted of a felony, aggravated felony, 3 or more misdemeanors or certain crimes, and pay an application fee and a fine of $100 fine.
The spouse and children of the undocumented immigrant farm worker who were present in the United States since or before the date of the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017’s enforcement would also be eligible for the Blue Card. Once the undocumented immigrant farm worker and his family have the Blue Cards, they may travel outside the United States and return thereafter using the Blue Cards as their legal travel document.
After maintaining the Blue Card, the second step for the undocumented immigrant worker and his family is to apply for the Green Card or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. In order to apply for the Green Card, the farm worker must have performed agricultural work for at least 100 days per year for 5 years or 150 days per year for 3 years, pay an application fee and a $400 fine, pay the applicable federal taxes, and continue to meet other admissibility requirements.
This proposed bill is a step in the right direction for reforming the immigration system in the agricultural industry. The contributions of the farm workers in feeding America is undeniable. Hence, passing this bill will ensure that America doesn’t have a food crisis.