It was a remarkable scene as WG President and CEO Tom Nassif sat in front of news cameras with UFW Arturo Rodriguez, as well as other members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition on April 18, and touted the compromise the ag leaders had reached on the agricultural guest worker component of comprehensive immigration reform.
The press conference was the culmination of countless meetings between ag labor and ag employers with both the blessing and involvement of numerous U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Marco Rubio. The Gang of Eight have hammered out a bipartisan package of comprehensive immigration reform that they believe will get more than 60 votes in the Senate, making it filibuster proof. In recent weeks that package had only been missing the agricultural component.
Nassif and Rodriguez, along with Chuck Conner, president & CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Jerry Kozak, president & CEO, National Milk Producers Federation; Mike Stuart, president & CEO, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; Tom Stenzel, president & CEO of United Fresh Produce Association and Nancy Foster, president & CEO, US Apple Association, presented the agreement to the media with all participants, as well as others not in attendance, pledging their support and full-throated effort to finally pass immigration reform.
Nassif called the achievement “historic” and said it was a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform. He said, if passed, it would assure agriculture “a stable and legal workforce.” He said “ag is united in support of the legislation.”
The compromise has many provisions but in general it will allow the vast majority of current farm workers to obtain legal status through a new Blue Card program if they choose to remain working in agriculture. After a minimum of five years, these workers who fulfill their Blue Card work requirements in U.S. agriculture, will become eligible to apply for a Green Card, providing that they have no outstanding taxes, no convictions and pay a fine. In addition, a new agricultural guest worker program will be established, that guarantees a flow of agricultural workers in future years. The agreement specifies wages for various agricultural jobs. There is a visa cap for the first five years of the program while current workers are participating in the Blue Card program. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will have a mandate to modify that cap as circumstances dictate in future years.
Currently, there is a bipartisan group in the House attempting to forge a compromise that could pass. Members of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, as well as Rodriguez, pledged to do all they could to garner support for the legislation in the coming months. Both the labor and employer representatives believe they will have some traction with House members.
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