(CN) – House lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday that offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented agricultural workers and lays out funding for farmworker housing and aid programs.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is the result of months of negotiations between the agricultural industry representatives and labor groups who sought to modernize the H-2 guest worker program and ensure fair wages and safe working conditions.
The bill’s sponsors, Representatives Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., called the bill a “compromise solution” for perennial issues faced by the agriculture industry.
“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,” Lofgren said in a statement Wednesday. “Our bill offers stability for American farms by providing a path to legal status for farm workers.”
The legislation would create a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program for farmworkers – offering more than 40,000 visas – while also establishing a mandatory, nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural employment in a bid to entice support from conservatives.
The bill also establishes the first set of guidelines on hemp production and testing of THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis, through multiple methods.
Lawmakers said the bill has the support of at least 20 Republicans and two dozen Democrats.
Newhouse said in a statement that as a third-generation farmer, he understands when farmers and ranchers around the U.S. tell him labor is their main concern.
In a statement, U.S. farmer coalition Western Growers applauded the bill and said that, if signed into law, it will alleviate farmers’ concerns about retaining the current crop of agricultural workers while ensuring a steady of flow of labor down the line.
“Furthermore, after a satisfactory transition period, the bill includes E-Verify for agricultural employers, demonstrating the commitment our industry has made toward a long-term labor solution,” said Western Growers CEO Tom Nassif. “What lies ahead is a very important process that will require the support of both political parties and the president.”
The group, founded in 1926, says on its website that its farmers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico produce over half the nation's fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farmworkers, said the bill honors the labor of undocumented workers who feed the nation without compromising their safety or livelihoods.
“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,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
The National Milk Producers Federation and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives also voiced support for the bill.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.