San Jose congresswoman proposes farmworker immigration bill
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) on Capitol Hill hours before announcing a new immigration proposal. Photo by Elizabeth Mendez.

    San Jose Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren on Wednesday announced a new bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, that would give undocumented workers in the agricultural industry a path to legal status.

    Farmworkers who could prove they’ve worked in agriculture and will continue to work in agriculture could qualify for permanent legal status.

    In an exclusive interview with San José Spotlight, Lofgren revealed that she’s been working on this bill since March. The former immigration attorney says a bipartisan group of members of Congress and their staff met with agricultural groups to work through contentious issues.

    “I think across the political spectrum, people realize we have a problem,” Lofgren said. “A majority of the farmworkers in the United States are undocumented. If they weren’t here we would not have an agricultural sector.”

    The bill would have tremendous impact in California, where agriculture officials have urged Congress for years to address immigration reform, stating the largest agricultural producer in the nation needs a reliable workforce. Sponsors of the bill claim that nearly one million people nationwide and almost 250,000 workers in California could benefit from this proposal. More than 200 agricultural interest groups support the bill, including the United Farm Workers Association.

    “They have constructed a thoughtful compromise on issues that have previously prevented agricultural and other immigration reform legislation from passing Congress,” read a UFW statement.

    According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state’s biggest agricultural commodity is dairy. And dairy lobbyists support the bill.

    A 2015 report by the National Milk Producers Federation looked at the economic impact of immigrant labor on American dairy farms and estimated that immigrant labor makes up a little more than half of the U.S. dairy workforce — though the report did not specify whether these numbers reflected undocumented or authorized workers. Eliminating immigrant labor, according to the report, would reduce American economic output by about 32.1 billion dollars and raise the prices of milk by 90.4 percent.

    One major player not on board with the bill is the American Farm Bureau, which took part in policy discussions for nine months before they backed out of an agreement.

    “Let’s create a way to have a legal workforce. That’s what we tried to do,” said Lofgren.

    More than two dozen Republican lawmakers publicly support this bill, just 24 hours before the Democratically controlled House is expected to hold a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

    Republicans in the House have denounced the impeachment investigation for weeks and the president repeatedly asked on Twitter why Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t held a vote on the process of investigations. On Thursday, the House is expected to hold that vote.

    Contact Elizabeth Mendez at [email protected] or follow @izziemae on Twitter.

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