It cannot be denied that migrant workers, any person laboring outside of his or her country, have contributed to America’s agricultural landscape throughout the years. Undocumented agricultural workers have worked within all sectors of the industry, including grain, dairy, fishing, produce and meatpacking.

Increases of imported labor are evident throughout history during times of war and economic uncertainty. World War II introduced the concept of provisional legal residency with the Bracero Program, which allowed thousands of Mexican laborers to work in the U.S. to alleviate agricultural labor shortages.

The Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, or “AgJOBS bill,” restructures and reforms the current H-2A temporary agricultural worker program – a type of visa issued to temporary guest workers in agriculture. The bill would grant applicants a “blue card,” signifying short-term legal residency.

“This amendment provides a consistent, stable workforce for an industry that depends almost exclusively on undocumented labor – agriculture,” said California Sen. Diane Feinstein, who introduced the bill to Congress mid-May.

About 1.35 million undocumented farm workers will be granted amnesty if Congress passes the AgJOBS bill.

According to the Geneseo Migrant Center, a nonprofit organization that coordinates programs to benefit migrant farm workers and their families, 81 percent of today’s farmhands are foreign-born, 77 percent are Mexican.

Provisions of the AgJOBS bill include:
• A two-year history of U.S. farm work for applicant
• A cap of 1.5 million blue cards in five years (without a per-year cap)
• Ability for family members to receive temporary residency
• An additional three-to-five-year work requirement, upon completion of initial labor period, to become eligible to apply for a green card for permanent legal residency

According to Feinstein’s Web site, California has experienced a 20-percent reduction of workers in its harvesting crews. Proponents of the bill argue that guest workers contribute to the timely return of seasonal and specialty crops. Because of the worker shortage, as many as 13,280 farms nationwide were forced to terminate operations within the past year. Feinstein claims passage of this legislation would alleviate worker shortages and secure America’s agricultural revenue.

“Today across the United States, there are not enough agricultural workers to pick, prune, pack or harvest our country’s crops. With an inadequate supply of workers, farmers from Maine to California and from Washington State to Georgia, have watched their produce rot and their farms lay fallow throughout the years,” said Sen. Feinstein.

Opponents argue that the bill is a temporary solution to a long-term immigration problem.

“While the H-2A program is reformed, it’s still a very cumbersome program and it especially is not going to help those smaller employers who need a few employees for a short period of time, four to six weeks, throughout the year,” said American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Labor Specialist Ron Gaskill. “So it still doesn’t help them.”

Others dislike the idea of rewarding people that initially entered the U.S. illegally and are weary that applicants will skirt legal processes and use the bill as a loophole to either remain in or enter the country undocumented.

Gaskill offers opinions about the pros and cons of the proposed legislation in an AFBF-produced R.S.S. video.

Are there disadvantages/causes of concern associated with this bill? Should other provisions be included? Is the bill in the best interest of American agriculture?

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