On October 30, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash) introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, a bill that would offer undocumented farmworkers and their families a pathway to citizenship. After careful consideration, CDM has chosen to support the Farmworker Modernization Act of 2019 because the bill provides a pathway to lawful status and eventual citizenship that does not currently exist for hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers and their families in the country.

The bill is a product of bipartisan compromise and does not entirely address the many real-world abuses that farmworkers are subjected to. While we have grave concerns about certain provisions of the legislation, CDM is committed to working with farmworkers, advocates and policymakers to push for amendments to improve the bill.

Since its founding, CDM has been driven by its mission to improve the conditions of low-wage workers in the United States and this compromise bill offers an opportunity to do so. Farmworkers are exposed to dangerous working and living conditions. It is estimated that between 1.2 and 1.75 million farmworkers are undocumented; undocumented farmworkers and their families are vulnerable to abuse and workplace violations because of their immigration status. The bill would enable undocumented workers and their families to receive work authorization and to travel outside the country. Importantly, this bill offers a more positive and viable alternative to existing proposals, including damaging appropriations riders, that would further jeopardize the safety and dignity of migrant farm workers.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the shortcomings of the bill and what those would mean for farmworker communities. Under the legislation, undocumented farmworkers and their families would have to wait many years a before having the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and forcing them to remain in possibly abusive work environments. In addition, we strongly believe that immigration enforcement has no place at work; yet this bill expands the use of Employment Eligibility Verification (“E-Verify”) to the agricultural industry nationwide. We are equally troubled by the Employer Safe Harbor provision, which would provide a loophole to H-2A employers for violations, such as unlawful recruitment fees or fraud, committed by the recruiters they choose to utilize. The bill also excludes the spouses, children and dependents of H-2A agricultural migrant workers from a pathway to legal status.

We acknowledge these and many other concerns with this compromise bill and vow to fight alongside workers nationwide to ensure that policies reflect and respect their voices and experiences.

We are optimistic that by combining efforts, we will address the defects of the compromise bill. Despite our concerns about the legislation, we support the bill because it offers a pathway to legal status for workers, which would have a profoundly positive impact across undocumented agricultural communities given their current vulnerability to abuse.