By Mary Martinez, Spring 2019 MSW Intern
California has more farmworkers than any other state and is the most progressive state regarding farmworkers’ rights. The modern farmworker movement began in 1965 when farmworkers led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta joined Filipino-American farmworkers and organized a strike against grape growers in Delano, California. They formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, which spread to other states as it launched a national grape boycott. It still holds true today that developments in California often have national implications.
On January 17, 2019, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Zoe Lodgren introduced a new farmworker bill that would provide a path to citizenship for farmworkers meeting the bill’s requirements. Called the Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019, the legislation proposes that California agricultural workers with 100 days of experience over the last two years could earn “blue card status” which would allow them to work legally in the U.S. They may also travel outside the United States for up to 180 days.
After maintaining blue card status for an additional three or five years, depending on hours worked in agriculture, California agricultural workers would be eligible for a green card granting permanent residence. Then, after five years, the agricultural worker would be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Senator Feinstein noted that California struggles to find farmworkers and acknowledged that backbreaking farm labor is performed largely by undocumented immigrants. Feinstein’s goal is to protect farmworkers from deportation and ensure that they don’t live in fear through a bill that will “help protect the families who put food on our tables,” providing farmworkers with legal status while stabilizing the agricultural economy. It would act as a bridge until Congress can enact comprehensive immigration reform.
For full text of the bill, click on the following link. https://lofgren.house.gov/sites/lofgren.house.gov/files/Agriculatural%20Worker%20Program%20Act%20of%202019%20SxS.pdf
“Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2019.” Retrieved from: https://lofgren.house.gov/sites/lofgren.house.gov/files/Agriculatural%20Worker%20Program%20Act%20of%202019%20SxS.pdf
“Legislation Regarding Farmworkers Introduced in 116th Congress.” Farmworker Justice Update: 02/06/19. Retrieved from: https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/fj-blog
‘SAF: The Official Web Page of Student Action with Farmworkers: United States Farmworker Fact Sheet.” Retrieved from: https://saf-unite.org/content/united-states-farmworker-factsheet
“UFW: The Official Web Page of the United Farmworkers of America: History. Retrieved from: https://ufw.org/research/history/