AgJOBS is back. The bill, titled the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 2009, or AgJOBS, was reintroduced Thursday in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and in the House by Congressmen Howard Berman (D-CA) and Adam Putnam (R-FL).
Introduced in 2003, AgJobs was passed by the Senate as part of a comprehensive immigration bill in 2006. Leadership in the House, however, failed to take the measure up before adjournment.
A two-part bill, the first part of AgJOBS would allow workers to qualify for temporary resident status provided they can prove they were substantially employed in U.S. agriculture during the past two years. Such workers would eventually be permitted to apply for permanent residency status provided they can prove that they have performed extensive agricultural work in the U.S. after the bill’s enactment. The second part restructures and reforms the current H-2A temporary agricultural worker program.
“Immigration reform is essential to stem this [farm worker] crisis,” said Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh Produce Association, in a letter of support for the bill’s reintroduction. “AgJobs is a widely-supported, comprehensive package of reforms intended to meet that objective. It includes reasonable measures to ensure a predictable, documented workforce, along with enhanced security and enforcement provisions.”
Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif also applauds the the reintroduction of the bill. “We commend Senator Feinstein and Congressmen Berman and Putnam for showing tremendous political courage,” he said. “The current economic crisis has only magnified what our industry has been saying for years. Despite record unemployment in parts of this country, we are not seeing American workers willing to take jobs as field laborers.”
“This is more than an immigration issue; it’s an economic issue,” Nassif continued. “California agriculture is a $37 billion industry. Without the passage and implementation of AgJOBS, California and the nation will continue to export farms along with the field jobs and the three to four upstream and downstream jobs that are created in the economy.”