About a half-million undocumented immigrant farmworkers may earn legal residency under a bill introduced in Congress in September. Unlike a host of similar efforts in the past, this bill appears likely to pass. “This is very historic,” says Will Hart, a spokesman for Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, who co-sponsored the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 2003 (AgJOBS). Lawmakers, farm-owners and the United Farm Workers of America have worked on the proposal for three years.
Under AgJOBS, immigrants who can prove
they worked 100 days on U.S. farms between March 1, 2002, and Aug.
31, 2003, can apply for temporary resident status for themselves
and their families. After six more years of work, they can become
permanent residents. The bill also streamlines the current process
farm employers use to legally hire foreign workers. The present
program, says Hart, yields visas for less than 50,000 workers,
while an estimated 800,000 immigrants labor illegally in the United
States (HCN, 9/29/03: Harvesting Poison).
has won bipartisan support in Congress. Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah,
co-sponsored AgJOBS with Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat;
Sen. Craig joined Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to introduce it in the
Proponents say the bill will also aid national
security by bringing illegal immigrants “out of the
shadows,” but some groups disagree. Jack Martin of the
Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform
says, “(A) better way to improve homeland security is to get
people who are in the shadows out of the country.”
Hart responds: “We don’t believe that’s a