U.S. House passes Yakima Rep’s immigrant farmworker measure

The bill benefits guest workers, farm owners and those who have worked in the U.S for 10 years or more.

  • Charles H. Featherstone Columbia Basin Herald, Moses Lake, Wash.
  • Monday, March 22, 2021 1:09pm
  • Northwest

By Charles H. Featherstone / Columbia Basin Herald

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Yakima, that would provide a path to permanent legal residency for more than one million farmworkers passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

In a 247-174 vote, with 30 Republicans voting in favor and two Democrats against, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed. The bill, if signed into law, will create a guest worker program for farm laborers, streamline the visa application process for farm owners, and allow those who have worked in the United States for 10 years or more to apply for permanent resident status.

By providing a legal way for non-U.S. citizens to work on U.S. farms and legalizing those who have been here, Newhouse said the bill will limit the incentives for illegal immigration, as well as secure a labor force for the country’s farmers.

This is especially important, Newhouse said, for vegetable and fruit tree growers, because the cultivating of those crops has not yet been mechanized and still requires a great deal of human labor to cultivate, tend and harvest.

“By creating a viable and desperately-needed agriculture labor program, we are removing opportunities to work illegally in the United States, strengthening our border security, and ensuring we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches for years to come,” Newhouse said.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, said the measure, which now goes on to the Senate for consideration, will ensure “stability and dignity” for farmworkers as well as “peace of mind” for the growers who employ them.

Speaking at an online press conference late Thursday with Lofgren, Newhouse said the measure was the result of lengthy talks between House Republicans and Democrats, as well as representatives of farmers, food processors and farm laborer unions.

“This was negotiated over months, years we should say, and it is truly a bipartisan effort,” he said. “These are the kinds of things that have staying power.”

Newhouse also voted on Thursday to support The American Dream and Promise Act, which will provide formal legal resident status and a path to citizenship to roughly 2 million young undocumented immigrants who were covered under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The DACA program protected young people from deportation who came to United States illegally before their 16th birthday, resided in the U.S. continuously since June, 2007, graduated from school or served honorably in the U.S. military, were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, and had no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions.

Newhouse agreed with fellow Republicans in the House, noting there is a crisis on the border. But preventing those covered under DACA from getting legal status will do nothing to alleviate that crisis.

“These young people — who were brought to this country at no fault of their own — will continue to suffer,” Newhouse said. “Congress must offer clear, targeted, and responsible solutions to secure our border, strengthen our national security, and deter future illegal migration. I will continue to work with my colleagues to do just that.”

There are more than 17,000 people covered under DACA in Washington state, according to a press release from Newhouse.

The House approved the Dream and Promise Act 228-197, with Newhouse one of only seven Republicans to vote for the bill.

Both measures now proceed to the Senate, which must approve them before they are signed into law.

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