AgJobs bill passes Judiciary Committee March 27

AgJobs legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27. This bill significantly revises the government’s H-2A guest worker program for farm workers. Key is an earned legal immigration status provision which the Fund estimates will cover several hundred thousand undocumented farm workers. The bill creates a “blue card” status which can lead to a green card.
According to a Farmworker Justice Fund press release,
AgJOBS contains two basic programs. First, the earned legalization program would allow many unauthorized immigrant farmworkers to earn legal immigration status by demonstrating their recent agricultural work experience in the U.S. and by continuing to work in agriculture for three to five years. Second, it would revise the H-2A agricultural guest worker program to streamline the process for employers while retaining major protections for workers.
All of the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Senator Edward Kennedy, supported AgJOBS. The Committee Republicans who voted for AgJOBS were Senators DeWine, Brownback, and Specter. Senators Hatch and Graham “passed,” choosing not to vote on the AgJOBS amendment. The Republican opponents were Coburn, Grassley, Kyl, Sessions, and Cornyn.
Provisions include
* To enter the earned legalization program, farmworkers will have to show that they performed at least 150 days of agricultural work in the U.S. during the 24-month period ending December 31, 2005. (This is not a per-year requirement; it is a total of 150 days.)
* Once the person shows eligibility, he or she gets a “blue card” to demonstrate temporary resident status. Previously, there was no special card or color.
* Once the farmworker obtains a blue card, the farmworker’s spouse and minor children obtain temporary resident status and the spouse gets work authorization. These family members may also then travel across the U.S. border.
* To earn a green card, the farmworkers must perform agricultural work for at least 100 work days per year for five years, or perform 150 days per year for three years. Participants may work outside agriculture but only if they continue to meet the annual agricultural work requirement.
* Disqualification will occur due to conviction of a felony or three misdemeanors or a single crime that involves bodily injury or injury to property in excess of $500.
* In addition to an application fee, farmworkers will have to pay a fine of $100 upon obtaining a blue card.
* To obtain a green card, farmworkers must pay a fine of $400 and must be current on their income taxes.
* The earned legalization program has a cap of 1.5 million.
* The H-2A temporary foreign worker program will allow employers in the dairy industry to hire workers even if they are year-round workers.