House Passes Bill to Legalize Undocumented Farmworkers; Backers Insist It’s Not Immigration “Amnesty”
Mai Hoang Yakima, Herald-Republic, December 13, 2019
Ana Cruz of Prosser has harvested apples, cherries, blueberries and hops in her 15 years as a farmworker. Over that time, she’s seen her older children grow up — one child is in college and two more will soon start college — and given birth to three more children.
Raising her children and working in the fields never distracted her from the fear she felt daily due to being undocumented. Or her inability to plan for her future.
That is what drove her, with just a few days’ notice, to head to Washington, D.C., with the United Farm Workers to show her support for Farm Workforce Modernization Act.
“If I can go to work legally and not have to fear that I might run into an ICE raid, get deported and separated from my children, that would mean the world to me,” Cruz said in a phone interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic Tuesday evening. Cruz spoke in Spanish, and Jeannette Mosqueda, operations manager for the United Farm Workers, translated.
On Wednesday, Cruz joined a group of House representatives in a briefing celebrating the House passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, 260-165.
All but three Democrats voted for the bill. Thirty-four Republicans voted for the bill.
The bill establishes a program that provides existing agricultural workers the opportunity to earn legal status by showing prior employment as well as continued employment in the industry, makes several reforms to streamline the process in the H-2A guest worker program and establishes an E-Verify system for the agricultural sector once the other changes are in place.
The passage of the bill was also declared by many as a victory for bi-partisanship.
The bill was crafted after a nine-month effort by Republican and Democratic representatives as well as farmworker advocates and agricultural industry organizations.
Several Republicans argued that the legislation provided amnesty, rewarded workers and employers who broke immigration laws and didn’t provide sufficient assurance that farmers would gain the stable workforce they desired.
“This legislation is a slap in the face to those who follow our immigration laws,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona.
Biggs noted that while plenty of agricultural groups supported the bill, one key group — the American Farm Bureau — was against it.
Just before voting on the bill, Biggs moved to amend the bill to strike a section that provided H-2A workers additional protections. The motion ultimately failed.