Senators tackle migrant farm labor

Democrat bill would provide pathway to legal status

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

March 29, 2024

2 Min Read
Agriculture workers in tomato field
Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Colorado Congressman Michael Bennet is spearheading a Democrat-led effort to reform the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers. On Friday, he introduced the Affordable and Secure Food Act, which he believes will help address the current labor shortage many farmers and ranchers are facing.

“The Affordable and Secure Food Act is our common-sense proposal to address America’s agricultural labor crisis, bring certainty to hundreds of thousands of farm workers living in the shadows, and lower food costs for Coloradans,” Bennet says. “If we don’t get this done, more family farms and ranches will go out of business, more farm workers will continue to live with fear and uncertainty, and more families will continue to feel the squeeze of high food prices.”

Bennet introduced the bill Friday to coincide with Cesar Chavez Day,  which commemorates the legacy of the late labor and civil rights activist. The bill establishes a program for farm workers to earn green cards after 10 years of agricultural work. That program would also allow their spouses and young children to earn legal status.

The legislation authorizes H-2A visas for year-round jobs for the first time. It includes language intended to streamline the visa application process, establish wage certainty, and protect farm worker rights.

Notably, the bill includes protections against employer retaliation. Consultations with “key service providers” would be classified as a protected activity for workers. Self-organization and union-related activities would be protected as well.

The Affordable and Secure Food Act also establishes an electronic verification system for all agricultural employment.

Opponents to similar legislation have argued that migrant worker reforms will provide amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants and weaken border security. To combat that those concerns and other, Bennett included a “Myths vs Facts” document with his official announcement, offering his rebukes.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow was among the bill’s cosponsors. She believes labor shortages and high costs are threatening family farms.

“If Congress does not fix the flaws in our broken ag labor system, we will continue to fail our farms and farmworkers,” Stabenow said. “This bill provides both with long overdue and much-needed certainty, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done.”

Other House Ag Committee Members co-sponsoring the legislation include Reps. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., John Fetterman, D-Pa., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.

Bennet previously introduced the Affordable and Secure Food Act in Dec. 2002 in hopes of adding it to the year-end spending bill.  Despite having the support of more than 240 agricultural industry groups, the bill was not passed before the Congressional session ended.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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