The Farm Labor Legislation Hang Up

Mar 23, 2021

Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a pair of bills aimed at providing legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants.

And the ears of farmers, agribiz leaders, and ag policy gurus perked up across the country.

Every “dreamer” gets his day: The first bill provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children [“dreamers”]. The legislation’s companion bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 (FWMA), also passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 247-174 and got the ag industry’s attention.

The deets: The FWMA improves the H-2A temporary ag worker program, requiring ag employers (through a phase-in) to use the E-verify system for all employees. This would provide a pathway to legal status for the over one million undocumented U.S. farmworkers.

Most are on board: The legislation is getting rave reviews by over 300 ag organizations including the National Council for Farmer Cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation, and Western Growers. Notably absent from the list is the American Farm Bureau Federation, citing concerns over how guest worker wages are calculated.

Where this goes: The bill now moves to the Senate. But even though it’s getting some bipartisan support in the Upper Chamber, the GOP might pull a “not so fast (fili)buster.”

A 50-50 party split mixed with a cloud of uncertainty facing the Biden Administration’s current handling of immigration issues could make it tough to get the 60 votes needed to reach the President’s desk for signing.