The Senate Thursday passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act by a 68-32 vote, securing special provisions for farm workers and their employers, ag groups say.
Under the bill, a new visa category is created specifically for farmworkers, which allow s agricultural workers special privileges should they commit to working in agriculture.
The bill also allows the Secretary of Agriculture to adjust the flow of immigrant workers, thereby allowing more workers to come into the country when they are needed.
The Senate's plan is a change from the current immigration plan, which includes provisions that farm groups have said are unworkable. Some of those regulations allow only seasonal workers for the agriculture sector, not full-time, skilled employees. Sometimes, too few workers are available to fill the need, employers have noted.
"Dairy farmers have been concerned that their current workers might be overlooked by the reform efforts, but the Senate bill addresses that concern, by allowing currently employed, but undocumented, workers to maintain their jobs. This is a huge benefit, both to workers, and their employers," noted Jerry Kozak, National Milk Producers Federation CEO.
Dairy producers have been especially concerned with the bill, because the nature of dairying requires animal care in all seasons. Kozak noted that regardless of the region of the country, many dairy farmers "face ongoing challenges finding a sufficient number of workers to care for and milk their cows."
Many of the provisions in the bill were agreed upon by the United Farm Workers and the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, largely representing farm workers and employers, respectively. The groups took on assistance from Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah to craft the language.
The House version of the bill does not include all of the same provisions the Senate bill does, a reason UFW has advocated for the Senate bill as-is to be taken up in the House. But for now, the groups are pleased that at least one bill has been passed, which they say is a step in the right direction.
"The Senate vote is our first victory, but we still have a long way to go in achieving a new immigration process for all the men, women and children who just want to actively participate as full members of our society," UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said.
Similarly, the AWC noted that it looks forward to working with the House to get its immigration bill passed. The Senate has been considering the bill since the middle of the month.
Read more on Agricultural Immigration:
Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Immigration Reform Bill
Agricultural Immigration Issue Unfolds
Long Week Ahead for Immigration Negotiations
All Parties 'Comfortable' With Ag Immigration Proposal
House Reveals Agricultural Guestworker Proposal