Below is an update from D.C. on the AgJOBS farmworker immigration bill:
>From the Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc. Monday morning, Nov. 24, 2003
1. The outlook: It's looking like the Senate will NOT take up the AgJOBS bill, S.1645,
prior to the holiday recess, and that it will have to be brought up in the Senate
and the House in early 2004. That is a setback, but Members of Congress are developing
a strategy for enactment in early 2004. As you know from reading the papers, the Senate has been busy.
2. Current status in Senate: There are presently 46 cosponsors in the Senate,
half Democrat and half Republican. Clearly a large majority of Senators would vote in favor of it
if it is brought to a vote. As you know, it has not gone through the immigration subcommittee
(chaired by Sen. Chambliss of Georgia, who is lukewarm on the bill) or the full Judiciary Committee
(which is chaired by Sen. Hatch, who is a cosponsor). Bringing it to a vote requires
some procedural maneuvering.
3. Current Status in the House: In the House of Representatives, there are 78 cosponsors
for the AgJOBS bill, HR 3142, half Democrat and half Republican. An overwhelming vote in the Senate
would create momentum in the House, where obstacles remain in the form of several powerful people,
including Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R.-Va.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee,
Rep. John Hostettler (R.-Ind.), chair of the House immigration subcommittee,
and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wisc.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
The AgJOBS legislation ordinarily would go through the immigration subcommittee
and Judiciary Committee, and could be reviewed by the Agriculture Committee and also
the Education and Workforce Committee (where there are some more sympathetic
Republicans and Democrats).
4. Immigration Restrictionists Organize: Rep. Goodlatte of Virginia, a Republican who is chair
of the full Agriculture Committee and a part of the immigration-restrictionist crowd,
is introducing a bill that would make the H-2A guestworker program worse for workers and that
would NOT contain a legalization or earned adjustment program. In addition, Rep. Tancredo of Colorado
says that there are problems even with Goodlattes' harsh proposal; he wants it even worse.
So the anti-labor, anti-imimigrant forces are building a defense against the AgJOBS bill.
Their legislation will need to be opposed.
5. What the Growers are Saying Publicly: I spoke at a conference last week, along with James Holt.
Holt is an agricultural economist, consultant for H-2A program growers, and lobbyist,
with McGuinness, Norris and Williams, which is the main law/lobbying firm in the nation for the growers
on labor and immigration issues. Holt also represents the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
The conference was at Cornell University, sponsored by an interdisciplinary program
that does outreach to farmers, farmworkers and rural communities. Various kinds of people,
including grower representatives from New York, were in the audience. Ordinarily, Jim and I
are sharply disagreeing. In this context, we both were saying that the AgJOBS legislation should pass
even though there were aspects about it that neither one of us liked (for different reasons).
Most notably, Holt said that despite the fact that they see the "attestation" provision
(replacing the so-called "labor certification" procedure in the H-2A program) as a "vast improvement,"
he does NOT forsee a big increase in the H-2A program in the near term. Some of the factors include
the proposed legalization of several hundred thousand currently-undocumented farmworkers,
the fact that undocumented workers will continue to be present in the U.S., and the time it takes
for agricultural employers to develop the infrastructure (such as housing, even if a mere housing allowance
has to be provided) for using the H-2A program. I added that we view the legalization program as
an opportunity to help farmworkers and their organizations make demands on their employers
to improve wages and working conditions and modernize labor practices.
Such improvements could help stabilize the workforce.
That's it for now.
Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc.
1010 Vermont Ave., NW, Ste. 915
Washington, D.C. 20005
202-783-2628 fax: 783-2561