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Ag immigration compromise survives Senate markup

Full Senate looks to debate comprehensive immigration bill in June and House Judiciary Committee examines Senate bill.

After tackling nearly 300 amendments, the Senate Judiciary Committee completed work on the comprehensive immigration reform bill May 21, including components agreed upon between farm workers and the ag industry to form a new visa program and path to citizenship for an estimated 1.4 million current undocumented farm workers.

The 13-5 approval out of committee sets the stage for Senate action beginning next month, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has indicated he wants to clear as much time as needed in June to debate the immigration reform bill.

The bill was introduced on April 17 by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The proposal includes agricultural provisions negotiated by the United Farm Workers and major grower associations and supported by the Agricultural Workforce Coalition.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted the bill includes "a fair and workable farm labor provision."

“We believe this bill will help ensure an adequate supply of farm labor but also will provide an increased level of surveillance of high-risk areas along our borders," Stallman said. "We know that one of the best ways to improve border security is to create a legal, workable way for farm workers to enter our country. If we do not have to waste resources locking up lettuce harvesters, we can focus on keeping those with criminal intentions out of our country.

Arturo Rodriguez, who has been integral in helping forge the compromise between farm workers and the industry, thanked the world of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), Rubio, Bennet and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).

“Under the new immigration process that is being proposed, farm workers would be able to work in the fields without fear of getting deported immediately and can be reunited with their families in a relatively short period of time. The bill would give professional farm workers temporary legal status and the right to earn a green card in the future by continuing to work in agriculture,” added United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez.

The House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing May 22 at 2 p.m. to evaluate the Senate's proposal and also look to see whether the proposed legislation prevents past history from repeating itself.

The hearing - S. 744 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: Lessons Learned or Mistakes Repeated? – will be broadcast at 2 p.m. EST at www.judiciary.house.gov/.

"While I am pleased that the Senate is working on immigration reform, there are many issues I am concerned about in the Senate’s ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration bill," said House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.). "We will look at the Senate bill, which is just one of many options, with an eye toward ensuring we don’t repeat the same mistakes of the past. In any immigration reform proposal, we must make sure that the President can’t unilaterally ‘turn-off’ the federal enforcement of our immigration laws."

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