Simpson introduces bill to allow undocumented ag workers to become legal
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WASHINGTON D.C. — One of Idaho’s representatives is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would help undocumented agricultural workers earn legal status.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) along with 19 other Republicans and 24 Democrats introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act Tuesday, on Capitol Hill. Simpson’s office said the bill is the largest immigration reform since the mid-80s. The bill will allow current undocumented ag workers to earn legal status, improve the H-2A program and require ag industries to use the E-Verify system.
“Getting our farmers’ employees right with the law will provide economic stability to our rural communities and make our country safer by creating a legal agriculture immigration system that allows our valuable law enforcement resources to focus on the bad actors,” Simpson said during the bill’s introduction today.
The bill has received support from over 40 different Idaho ag businesses and organizations including Idahoan Foods, Idaho Potato Commission and Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
“This bipartisan bill would provide a great deal of certainty and stability on one of the most challenging aspects of milk production in the state — the availability of trained, experienced workers to care for the cows,” Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Rick Naerebout said in a news release.
Simpson’s spokesman Brennen Summers said this bill would be particularly beneficial to dairies by reforming the H-2A visa program to allow farmers to hire foreign ag workers year-round. Currently, the program only permits seasonal workers.
The H-2A visa program is what allows the agricultural industry to hire temporary foreign workers.
Along with reforming the H-2A visa program and potentially allowing more foreign ag workers into the country, the bill would make the E-Verify system mandatory for all agricultural employment.
The E-Verify system is a United States Department of Homeland Security program that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S.
“It’s going to take a lot of stress off of farmers that are just trying to do their job and that want to stay right with the law,” Summers said. “There’s no incentive to run to Idaho illegally because what we’re doing is we’re going to have a legal workforce that has documents and papers.”
The bill is being criticized by immigration organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies. Both organizations advocate for strict immigration policies and lower immigration rates.
CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian said this bill could hurt or even reverse the advances the agriculture industry has made in automation and mechanization.
“Why on earth would we think it’s Congress’s job to procure a labor force for farmers? We are a continent-spanning nation with a third of a billion people. Employers, whether they’re farmers or any other employers, are going to have to figure out how to recruit and retain people from that labor force. If they can’t, they need to find another business to go into,” Krikorian told EastIdahoNews.com.
In his statements Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol Building, Simpson said Idahoans have been asking him since his first day in office to fix the country’s immigration laws.
“There is perhaps no more important facet of immigration reform for Idaho and its economy than the agriculture workforce. I am proud to introduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act alongside a bipartisan coalition of members in the first step towards solving this problem,” Simpson said.