According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, there are approximately 7 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States. An estimated 1.8 million immigrants are more than half of the U.S. agricultural workforce picking fruits and vegetables, tending livestock, and processing meat and poultry. Despite the importance of their hard work and economic contributions, many of these undocumented agricultural workers are forced to "live in the shadows" of our society, working for meager wages, living in deplorable conditions and fearing constantly that they will be deported.
On September 23, 2003 the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003 (S. 1645, H.R. 3142) was introduced in the House and the Senate. One of its central components would give a number of undocumented agricultural workers an opportunity to earn a chance to legalize their status and would also allow them to bring action for work and wage violations in federal court. The bill is the result of a negotiated compromise between the nation’s major agricultural employers and the United Farm Workers of America. At the time of its introduction, the bill had bi-partisan support with such co-sponsors as Representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT) and Howard Berman (D-CA), and Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA).
On January 7, 2004, the President asked Congress to create a guest worker program that would be open to eligible undocumented immigrants, allowing them to temporarily legalize their status and stay in the United States to work for a determined amount of time. The details of the President’s plan are still not known. There is great concern over whether or not there will be any component allowing immigrants a clear path to permanent residency. On January 21, 2004, Senators Hagel (R-NE) and Daschle (D-SD) introduced S. 2010, the Immigration Reform Act of 2004, which would also legalize eligible undocumented immigrants, and in some cases allow for some undocumented aliens to obtain lawful permanent resident status. Currently it is uncertain whether Congress will take up legislation this year.
The USCCB strongly supports the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003 (S. 1645, H.R. 3142). At this time, the Conference has not taken a position on the Immigration Reform Act of 2004 (S. 2010) or on the President’s proposal. The Bishops’ commitment to justice for immigrants, especially for the undocumented and farm workers has been an important legislative goal for the Conference for decades. Bishop Thomas Wenski, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, recently wrote: …As introduced, S. 1645 and H.R. 3142 represent, on balance, a positive improvement upon the current deplorable situation of migrant farm workers, many of whom are unable to organize or bargain with their employers. It is our view that the earned adjustment provisions, a central feature of the legislation, will enable many undocumented workers to “come out of the shadows” and assert their basic rights in the work place, creating an environment in the future which will benefit both foreign and U.S. farm workers.”
On Labor Day, 2003, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Policy, stated: We call upon our nation to develop policies that reflect a fundamental respect for the dignity and rights of agricultural workers. At a minimum, we must ensure that agricultural workers earn a decent wage for themselves and their families and live in conditions that are safe and humane. Comprehensive immigration reform which features legalization is needed to ensure that undocumented migrant farm workers obtain legal status and can assert their basic labor rights. U.S. and Mexican Catholic Bishops, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, January 23, 2003:
Now is the time for both the United States and Mexico to confront the reality of globalization and work toward a globalization of solidarity. We call upon both governments to cooperate and to jointly enact policies that will create a generous, legal flow of migrants between both nations. It is now time to harmonize policies on the movement of people, particularly in a way that respects the human dignity of the migrant and recognizes the social consequences of globalization. (n. 57)
Please contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the Agricultural Jobs Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2003 (S. 1645, H.R. 3142) as a first step in enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Also ask them to support efforts to provide permanent resident status to the undocumented in our nation and to reform our legal immigration system.
- The “AgJobs” bill would provide a measure of justice to a vulnerable group of workers -- farm workers -- who toil in America's agricultural fields picking fruits and vegetables that feed all Americans. The legislation would provide a path to permanent residency for a number of undocumented farm workers and would give them the option to bring federal action against unscrupulous employers who exploit them.
- The “AgJobs” bill would also write into statute worker protections in the H-2A program, including work guarantees, the requirement that the specific terms of work are laid out for a worker, and the requirement that transportation costs be provided to and from the work site. It represents a significant achievement between farm worker advocates and agricultural growers who negotiated the proposal. It also enjoys bipartisan support.
- Congress also needs to work toward comprehensive immigration reform which would provide permanent resident status to undocumented persons currently living in the United States.
For More Information
Contact Kevin Appleby at the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, Migration and Refugee Services, (202) 541-3260 / email@example.com or Andy Rivas 202-541-3190; (fax) 202-541-3339; firstname.lastname@example.org.