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WA Farmworkers: Congress' Path-to-Citizenship Bill Flawed

A bill creating a path to legal status for farmworkers would also require farms to adopt E-Verify, a controversial system used to check employment eligibility. (ablokhin/Adobe Stock)
A bill creating a path to legal status for farmworkers would also require farms to adopt E-Verify, a controversial system used to check employment eligibility. (ablokhin/Adobe Stock)
November 25, 2019

SEATTLE – Farm-industry leaders are cheering a bill in Congress that would provide a path to legal status for the workers they hire. But those laborers remain skeptical.

Co-authored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington (4th District), the Farm Workforce Modernization Act lays out a years-long process for agriculture workers to become legal residents. It also would require farms to adopt E-Verify, a system from the Department of Homeland Security, to confirm employment eligibility.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of the farmworkers' rights group Community to Community Development, has concerns E-Verify could trigger panic among immigrant communities - especially those without access to legal advice.

"In Washington state, E-Verify is optional,” Guillen said. “So, to force the agricultural employers into this E-Verify mandate - it's wrong, during this anti-immigrant climate with the Trump administration."

Guillen also opposes the bill because it would expand the H-2A guest farmworker program she said has exploited foreign laborers and displaced domestic farmworkers. Coupled with mandatory E-Verify adoption, she said workers would be forced to use the H-2A program.

But some farmers say the change is necessary because of the farm labor shortage.

Guillen said she believes farmworkers weren't consulted in writing this bill. She said the laborers her group works with don't want a path-to-citizenship measure only for farmworkers, and that it could be used to pit these workers against other immigrants.

"We're really concerned about that divide-and-conquer – this is for farmworkers only, and what about everybody else?” She said. “We are not in agreement of going into this alone without the rest of the community – the rest of the undocumented community – and activists across the country."

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Disclosure: Community to Community Development contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA