Local cities support immigration reform

Farmersville, Exeter agree to send letters of support for Farm Workforce Modernization Act to U.S. senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla

FARMERSVILLE  – Manuel Cunha is on a mission to put Valley communities at the forefront of immigration reform.

As director of the Nisei Farmers League, an agriculture advocacy group interested in solutions which work for both growers and farm workers, Cunha has been traveling up, down and across the San Joaquin Valley asking them to write letters of support for new and old legislation providing undocumented farm workers with a pass to legal residency and creating a system to ensure a legal workforce for farmers. The letter, addressed to U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), urges the Senate to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act approved by the House in 2019.

“We have hope that it will pass the Senate, especially since undocumented farmworkers and other agricultural employees have shown how important they are during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter states.

The bill would help secure an agricultural labor force, which is increasingly comprised of foreign workers, by updating and streamlining the H-2A temporary worker visa program and provide farmworkers with a path to legal status while ensuring fair wages and working conditions for all workers. Any farm worker who has worked at least 180 days in agriculture over the last two years can apply for temporary status as a certified agriculture worker, good for three years, which can be renewed indefinitely if they work at least 100 days per year. Farm workers who have worked at least 100 days per year for 10 years can earn a path to a green card by paying a $1,000 fee.

“Workers have been waiting 20 to 30 years for this legislation,” Cunha said. “For far too long, immigration has only been used to win elections and hasn’t taken into account the safety of the people, both the American people and those who work to feed them.”

The bill goes on to list H-2A visa reforms to allow workers to shift between different types of farm labor at different wages and allocating money to rehabilitate existing farmworkers housing and invest in new low-income housing projects for rural counties. Lastly, the bill would establish a mandatory, nationwide e-verify system for all agriculture employment to validate each worker is working.

“The system has failed and it is time we protect the 8 [million] to 10 million people who are working here while also working on securing our boarder,” Cunha said. “Both Republicans and Democrats have failed on this issue.”

Farmersville and Exeter recently joined the ranks of Valley cities who have supported the legislation when it gave a consensus to send the letters at their city council meetings on July 26 and 27 respectively. To date, Cunha says 11 cities have agreed to send the letters to California Senators and he plans to present them to all 48 cities between Stockton and Bakersfield by the end of this month.

In addition to supporting the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, Cunha is also asking senators to make a small change in the text with big implications. He said the act doesn’t include undocumented workers who work in packing houses and food processing plants because they are not considered farm labor under the federal definition used in the bill. The letter asks federal lawmakers to use the USDA definition which is broader and more inclusive.

“It would be unfair for these workers who are sorting, packing, or processing agriculture commodities to have to resign from these agricultural jobs to seek another that meets the legislation’s current definition of agricultural labor or services,” the letter reads. “They too are working long hours, especially during peak season.”

If the bill fails to redefine farm labor, Cunha said it could lead to a massive separation of families. In many undocumented households, fathers work in the fields and mothers work in the packing houses. If the e-verify system were to be implemented as part of this legislation without that change, fathers would meet the criteria

“The separation of families in this country has to stop,” Cunha said.

For Cunha, support of the legislation is paramount for the future of agriculture, the Valley’s most profitable industry, but also requires concurrent support of the American Dream and Promise Act. The 2019 legislation would ban deportation proceedings against Dreamers, children of people who unlawfully immigrated to the United States, and provide them with a path toward permanent resident status. The bill, which has passed the House but not the Senate, provides a streamlined process for Dreamers to apply for permanent residence if they were designated as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which must be renewed every 10 years.

“Dreamers must not be forgotten in this push to legalize the agricultural workforce,” the letter states. “In our community, many Dreamers have parents who work in agriculture. To not move forward without legislation for Dreamers leaves their future uncertain.”

Start typing and press Enter to search