April 19, 2013 — The proposal introduced in the Senate on Wednesday was called “historic” by representatives of major dairy, cooperative, fruit and vegetable grower and farm labor organizations during a joint press conference held this week. The members of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition said the proposal addresses the major needs of U.S. farmers and workers, and helps fix a broken immigration policy that is leading to shortages of workers to produce, harvest and pack the nation’s food supply.
The importance of agriculture and food production is evident in the bill, with more than 100 pages of the 844-page bill devoted to addressing agriculture’s specific needs.
National Milk Producers Federation CEO and president Jerry Kozak participated in the press conference. He identified four key pieces of the proposal essential to dairy producers, covering both current and future immigrant workers.
They include creation of a “blue card” for experienced but undocumented workers, providing them legal protection from deportation; and creation of a new visa program that will provide a stable supply of legal workers in the future. The bill would create a system whereby dairy and other agricultural producers can recruit and hire new workers, either on a contract or at-will basis, from a pool of applicants. The visa program would also do away with current visa requirements that only address the needs of seasonal occupations, since dairy farming is a 365-day-a-year job.
The bill would create specific categories of agricultural workers, and establish minimum wages for each group based on the skills required, and provides other worker protections. And, the “blue cards” would be extended to workers spouses and children to help immigrant labor families stay together.
While historic, the proposal is just the next step in what will likely be a long political battle to achieve immigration reform.