House Immigration Reform Wouldn't Grant Ag Workers Citizenship

House sees temporary ag workers, Senate would put ag workers on path to permanent residency.


A House proposal on immigration reform has advocacy groups like the United Farm Workers Union up in arms.

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While the Senate might have hammered out an agreement on how to deal with the nation's nearly 1 million migrant agricultural workers – many of them in the U.S. illegally – leaders in the House are proposing a different approach that would turn the Senate's deal on its head.

And that's got advocacy groups like the United Farm Workers Union – who thought they had a workable deal in the Senate proposal – up in arms.

"The [Senate's] comprehensive immigration reform proposal — including the agricultural provisions negotiated by the United Farm Workers and major grower associations — fulfills the urgent need for an earned legalization program for farm workers," Maria Machuca, the communications director for the United Farm Workers Union said. "It would also help stabilize the farm labor workforce through incentives for immigrants to continue working in U.S. agriculture."

[READ: Calif. Looks to Ditch Citizenship Requirement for Jury Duty]

But House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has been outspoken in his support for a reformed ag program that doesn't guarantee a special path to permanent status for workers. His bill would allow ag workers to stay in the U.S. temporarily, but most would be required to return home periodically.

Goodlatte's bill would also grant workers either the state's minimum wage or the industry's prevailing wage, whichever is larger.

"By putting farmers in the driver's seat rather than Washington bureaucrats, they will be better equipped to compete in the global economy and continue growing our crops. It is vital that American farmers have access to a workable guestworker program now so that they can continue putting food on Americans' tables," Goodlatte said in a statement. "We have to get this right so that farmers aren't burdened with another failed guest worker program for decades to come."

[READ: 5 Things the 'Gang of Eight' Did to Give Immigration Reform a Shot]

The Senate proposal, on the other hand, would calculate ag worker's pay in a new formula. It would also allow ag workers who have worked at least 100 days in agriculture over the last two years the chance to get a "blue card" – a form of legal status that allows them to stay in the country permanently after at least five years. The path citizenship is quicker than for other industry workers.

The vastly different proposals represent just the first of many showdowns to come as the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate work independently to reform the country's immigration system.

One advocate says that providing different solutions to the same problems can only strengthen the debate if both parties are willing to work together.

"It is going to be interesting to see how the Senate and the House work together. It is like watching a soap opera," says GOP immigration advocate Brad Bailey. "There are days that I think everyone wants a deal and they are going to get this system taken care of and then there are days I don't. But this is all a healthy exercise that gets people thinking about this in a different way."

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