On December 11, the Democrat-controlled House quietly passed a bill expanding provisions for alien farm workers. The legislation passed with strong Democratic support in the House by a 260-165 vote.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 establishes a path for certain agricultural workers to apply for temporary immigration status, also known as certified agricultural worker (CAW) status, valid for five and half years with room for extension, while also making changes to the H-2A agriculture visa program.
The bill extends dependent status to family members of workers under the program and authorizes workers to apply for permanent residency after meeting various requirements, including performing agricultural work for a designated number of years.
Once CAW status is achieved, the bill would allow workers to remain on this temporary status indefinitely and authorizes a pathway for workers to earn permanent legal status through the issuance of a green card.
This pathway is dependent on the individual’s continued agricultural work and payment of penalties.
Once a green card is issued, workers would no longer be required to work in the agriculture sector and would have access to a pathway to become U.S. citizens.
The bill also creates an electronic platform for filing, processing, and authorizing H-2A cases.
According to the legislation, the bill aims to “ensure that the U.S. agricultural sector has access to a stable, reliable, and authorized workforce for the future.”
Advocates for the legislation argue it has the potential to economically benefit the agriculture sector by expanding the ability of employers to hire additional farm workers.
Opponents of the bill, however, argue the legislation is a veiled measure for granting amnesty that incentivizes illegal immigration and provides a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally.
Experts at the Heritage Foundation contend the bill is a “clear-cut example of amnesty,” that “threatens the legal immigration system’s legitimacy and incentivizes aliens and farmers to ignore the legal immigration system in the future if it best serves their needs.”
Mike Howell, a senior advisor for Executive Branch relations at the Heritage Foundation, described the way the controversial bill was passed in the House “quietly and quickly” amid an ongoing impeachment hearing as a “sneaky way to do it.”
“This is a sneaky way to do it – to push through without much public input, and without Congressional debates and the ability for people to speak out on it and to petition their Congressman,” Howell told The Texan.
The bill has garnered support from farm groups across the nation in addition to garnering bipartisan votes in Congress.
“I am a proud cosponsor of this bill, as it provides a strong and stable agricultural workforce, as well as providing a fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers,” Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29) said of the legislation.
Other Texas Democrats, including Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), also issued statements of support for the legislation.
“I am proud to cast my vote for this bill and continue working with all interested parties to ensure that access to reliable, legal, and skilled workforce is no longer out of reach,” Rep. Gonzalez said in an official statement.
Every Republican member of the Texas delegation, with the exception of Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23), voted against the legislation.
When asked about his decision to vote as he did, Congressman Hurd told The Texan, “Texas’ agricultural industry has been hit hard over the last five years. While the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is far from perfect, the bill does serve as Congress’ first step to ensure hardworking farmers and ranchers are employing a legal workforce.”
“The Farm Workforce Modernization Act establishes a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employees – something Texas farmers and ranchers have been striving to achieve for years,” Hurd continued.
Although the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Democrat-controlled House, it is not expected to pass in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.