Valley ag community hopes bipartisan bill will bring workers back to the fields

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The last law passed giving undocumented farmworkers a path to legal status was passed in 1986

FRESNO, California (KSEE) — A number of California congressmen are pushing for a bill that would help undocumented farmworkers get legal status.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act comes as farmers have had growing concerns due to the lack of workers in their fields. They hope with it, the fears go away and they can start getting back what they’ve lost.

The bill — introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), and a slew of other lawmakers Wednesday — is predicted to apply to around 230,000 farmworkers in the Central Valley.

The bill, if passed, would implement the following:

  • Farmworkers with at least two years experience would be eligible to apply for 5-year renewable visas. It would extend to their family members.
  • It would cut down the time and cost for employers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. through the H-2A visa program.
  • An E-verify system would be implemented nationwide for the agriculture sector.

The last time U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was in the area, many farmers shared stories of empty fields due to the lack of workers.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) — who was a part of the town hall Perdue held — has heard those concerns for years. He said farmers say deportation fears have caused a lot of workers to stay home.

“There is a fear I have not seen before in the last several years,” Costa said.

Costa is one of a number California Democrats who have co-sponsored the bill. Freshmen congressmen Rep. T.J. Cox (D-Calif.) and Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) have also signed onto it.

A few hours after the bill was announced, a group of growers, local elected leaders and even accomplished boxer Jose Ramirez announced their praise for the bill.

Ramirez was one a two people to mention the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) passed in 1986, saying it helped his family get legal status and shows Wednesday’s new bill could bring a lot of good to the country.

Eriberto Hernandez, a regional coordinator for the UFW Foundation, was the other. He said IRCA helped bring his whole family into the country.

“[My parents] raised six children, all of whom work in agriculture in different ways,” Hernandez said.

The bill still has a way to go before it can be signed off by Pres. Donald Trump, but with early support from both sides of the aisle — the ag community is hopeful.

“I was shocked it has bipartisan support,” Reedley-based grower and farmworker contractor George Rodriguez said. “I’m hoping it’ll go quick.”

The bill be discussed in a U.S. House committee at least once before being brought to a vote. If passed, it would then go to the U.S. Senate.

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