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House introduces new bipartisan ag guestworker bill

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Bill allows undocumented workers currently working in ag to participate in H-2C program and work legally.

House leadership announced that they are committed to bringing a combination Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act and Legal Workforce Act to the House floor for a vote this month. On Wednesday, the bill was unveiled with bipartisan support in an effort to provide a fix to the burdensome H-2A agricultural guestworker program.

The AG Act and Legal Workforce Act replaces current H-2A agricultural guestworker program with a workable new program, known as the H-2C program, to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have access to a reliable workforce.

The H-2C program is available to both seasonal and year-round agricultural employers. Legislators say it provides a “generous visa allocation to ensure labor needs are met, provides much-needed flexibility to minimize disruptions in farm operations, eliminates regulatory burdens and contains effective accountability and enforcement provisions.” These provisions are supported by more than 200 agricultural groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The bill also allows experienced agricultural workers who are currently undocumented in the U.S. to join and participate in the H-2C program so they may work legally.

The bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) and Reps. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), Lamar Smith (R., Texas), Henry Cuellar (D, Texas), Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.), Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and Ken Calvert (R., Cal.).

Goodlatte, who has been at the forefront of trying to provide a solution for agricultural workers, said the bill addresses two of the most pressing issues facing the current immigration system: illegal immigration and the need for a workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s farmers and ranchers.

“To address illegal immigration, the bill gradually rolls out E-Verify nationwide to ensure jobs are protected for legal workers. E-Verify – a user-friendly, web-based program that quickly confirms 99% of work-eligible employees –  takes less than two minutes to use and is an effective tool to combat illegal immigration,” Goodlatte explained.

He noted that the bill incorporates many of the comments and concerns he has heard from the agricultural community over the past several years.

“When not enough Americans can be found to fill jobs, the bill ensures that American farmers have access to a reliable workforce to fill positions needed to keep their farms afloat. The agricultural community has waited far too long for a workable guestworker program, and it’s past time to enact a solution,” Goodlatte said.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Conaway noted that Goodlatte has been very responsive to the concerns of the agricultural community and he said he looks forward to working with Goodlatte “to help shepherd this legislation through the House.”

"We need an ag worker program that respects our nation’s immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive," Goodlatte said. "This bill takes important steps to cut red tape and institutes a flexible program that accounts for the different labor needs of various producers."

Peterson added that farmers and ranchers have repeatedly told legislators of their need for a reliable workforce. “This will help to move that process forward and address an issue that is long overdue,” he stated.

The E-Verify expansion is an important component of the bill, Smith said, citing a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that 82% of voters favor requiring business owners to check the immigration status of employees they hire. “E-Verify receives the most public support of any proposed immigration reform,” he said, noting that it also protects jobs for American workers and reduces illegal immigration by cutting off the “jobs magnet.”

Calvert said the bill takes a “monumental step towards ending the incentive that brings people here illegally: mandating the use of E-Verify.” The bill offers the realistic applications needed for labor needs in the agriculture industry, he added.

“I am grateful to the chairman for the additional modifications that have gone even further to accommodate agricultural labor needs,” Calvert said.

TAGS: Policy
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