The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved with bipartisan support the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, a bill that will alter national immigration laws and offer more provisions for agricultural workers and employers.
Senators began working on the bill months ago, with a group of eight drafting initial legislation for committee consideration. After five markup sessions and consideration of more than 200 amendments, the bill passed 13-5.
A portion of the bill which pertains to agricultural immigration was specifically drafted with the help of agricultural employees and employers, as well as Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Under the legislation, farm workers would be provided a path to citizenship based on commitment to working in agriculture through a "blue card" provision. Additionally, the plan would instate a visa program that allows farm owners to employ non-seasonal workers.
Overall, 141 of the 212 amendments to the bill were adopted, though the original bill remained largely intact.
The bill faced major hurdles as Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, disagreed on several provisions and amendments in the legislation.
Grassley ultimately voted against the bill, however noting that he believed it was necessary to "move the bill along" and he wouldn't know until the final bill is called up for vote if it is something he can support.
Ag interests were generally supportive of the bill that moved through committee Tuesday. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman explained that the best way to improve border security is to create a legal way for farm workers to enter the country.