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Congressman Panetta, Bipartisan House Members Introduce Farm Workforce Modernization Act

October 30, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19), Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04), Collin Peterson (D-MN-07), Mike Simpson (R-ID-02), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25) introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 4916, to provide a compromise solution for American agriculture. The bill was introduced with the strong bipartisan support of 24 Democratic and 21 Republican Members of Congress.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was negotiated over several months with input from agricultural stakeholders and labor organizations, is a bipartisan solution for America’s agriculture industry and farmworkers by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.

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"For many years, farmers and farmworkers from the Central Coast to the center of America to the East Coast have faced continued uncertainty when it comes to agriculture labor," said Congressman Panetta.  "Fortunately, my colleagues and I not only understand this issue, we understand what it will take to fix this issue. That is why for the past nine months, Democratic and Republican members of Congress and farmers and farmworkers have been at the table working tirelessly to grind out the details of legislation that protects the people that currently work in agriculture and modernizes and streamlines our immigration system for agriculture labor. It wasn't easy and the legislation still needs to be signed into law, but the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a big step in the right direction for a bipartisan solution that can provide the needed certainty in our agriculture communities. I am proud to have been a part of these efforts and look forward to continuing the fight to pass this legislation that is so important to the Central Coast and our country."

"The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation. But, farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation," said Congresswoman Lofgren. "Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farmworkers. In addition, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses the nation’s future labor needs by modernizing an outdated system for temporary workers, while ensuring fair wages and workplace conditions."

"When I speak to farmers and ranchers across the country, labor is often their number one concern. Our nation’s agriculture industry is diverse and flourishing, but producers are in desperate need of a legal and reliable workforce," said Congressman Newhouse.  "As a third-generation farmer, I understand the invaluable contributions made by farmworkers to American agriculture, and we must modernize our guestworker program to work for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in the 21st Century.  The Farm Workforce Modernization Act offers a strong, bipartisan workforce solution to provide certainty to both farm owners and workers through an accessible, employment-based program. This bill is the solution our agricultural industry needs."

The full list of cosponsors includes: Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV-07); Rep. James Baird (R-IN- 04); Rep. Anthony Brindisi(D-NY-22); Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN-05); Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24); Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA-29); Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-27); Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-04); Rep. Luis J. Correa (D-CA-46); Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA-16); Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA-21); Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN-02) Rep. John Curtis  (R-UT-03); Rep. David Scott (D-GA-13); Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL-13); Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25); Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01); Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11); Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29); Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-07); Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA-10); Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-01); Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL-05); Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05); Rep. Paul Mitchell  (R-MI-10); Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04); Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA-22); Rep. Jimmy Panetta  (D-CA-20); Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN-07); Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY-23); Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38); Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR-05); Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA-08) ; Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID-02); Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08); Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19); Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21); Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15); Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA-35); Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-02); Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06); Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX-34); Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-02); Rep. Don Young  (R-AK- At Large)

"Agriculture needs a reliable and legal source of workers. I want to thank the bipartisan group of Members who worked with ag groups to come up with this initial bill that can help move this dialogue forward.  This effort has produced a proposal that provides a better option than the status quo for many parts of U.S. agriculture.  As this discussion continues, we need to also address meat and poultry processing workforce needs," said Congressman Peterson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

"My constituents have been asking me to fix our immigration laws since my first day in Congress," said Congressman Simpson. "There is perhaps no more important facet of immigration reform for Idaho and its economy than the agriculture workforce. I am proud to introduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act alongside a bipartisan coalition of members in the first step towards solving this problem. Getting our farmers’ employees right with the law will provide economic stability to our rural communities and make our country safer by creating a legal, merit-based agriculture immigration system that allows our valuable law enforcement resources to focus on the bad actors."

"Today, we announce a common-sense compromise that is fair to farmers, farmworkers, and to US citizens who appreciate the rule of law. Across the Country and in California, farmers have been calling for a reliable and legal workforce for years," said Congressman LaMalfa. "The Farm Workforce Modernization Act addresses these issues in a bipartisan manner that will provide some much-needed certainty. It does so by modernizing the H-2A program, stabilizing wages, and instituting a merit-based system for agricultural workers to eventually earn legal status – but only after years of proven and consistent employment in the U.S. agriculture industry, vigorous background checks, and state-of-the-art biometric verification. It’s what the people who work to feed our country need. I’m happy to have been a part in crafting this bipartisan agreement and deliver on our promise to find solutions for America’s agriculture industry."

"The success of our farmers, growers, and producers is essential not only for our economy but for our national security. For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A system—making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people," said Rep. Diaz-Balart.  "This bill would allow us to continue to grow and produce food in our country, while proving a solution that strengthens economic and national security, offers stability and permanence to agricultural workers, adheres to the rule of law, modernizes our antiquated H2A system, and bolsters the economy. I’m proud to lead this important legislation, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues as we pursue a good-faith, bipartisan solution for our nation's farmers."

The bill has garnered the wide-spread support of over 200 agriculture groups and labor organizations.

"The California Farm Bureau Federation applauds Rep. Panetta for supporting commonsense agricultural worker reforms included in the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Farmers, ranchers and their employees have sought certainty in immigration law for many years, and he responded to their call. Rep. Panetta is solutions-minded, and we thank him for working to craft a bill that can pass the House, advance to the Senate and be signed into law," said Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“After months of negotiations, the UFW and UFW Foundation are enthusiastic about passing legislation that honors all farm workers who feed America by creating a way for undocumented workers to apply for legal status and a roadmap to earn citizenship in the future without compromising farm workers’ existing wages and legal protections. Understanding that compromise is required to meaningfully improve the lives of immigrant field laborers, it is our hope this will be the first time the House of Representatives, under the leadership of either party, will approve an agricultural immigration bill,” said Arturo S. Rodriguez, President Emeritus of United Farmworkers & Spokesperson of UFW Foundation.

Tom Stenzel said, "I want to thank Chairwoman Lofgren and Congressman Dan Newhouse for their leadership in introducing this bill. Joined by a broad, bipartisan group of legislators, these two members have reached an agreement that will reform our immigration system for generations to come," said Tom Stenzel, President & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association. "More work is needed to improve this legislation, but in a time where Washington can’t seem to agree on anything, these members have stepped forward and recognized that the challenge of immigration reform is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it is an American problem, and we need to fix it."

Background:

Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A guestworker program is in need of meaningful, bipartisan reform. 

The bill will:

  • Establish a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy.
  • Reform the H-2A program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. The bill focuses on modifications to make the program more responsive and user-friendly for employers and provides access to the program for industries with year-round labor needs.
  • Establish mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment with a structured phase-in and guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.