Opinion: Provide a path to citizenship for immigrant farmers
In recent years, Michigan agriculture has faced unprecedented challenges related to trade, tariffs and bad weather. As the president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, I hear first-hand about the growing concerns impacting our community and fears of increasing challenges threatening the sustainability of Michigan agricultural operations. Among the top concerns is the industry’s growing labor crisis that is felt by farmers and businesses across the country.
Our industry is critically dependent on millions of workers — a tremendous proportion of whom are immigrants. Here in Michigan, with our huge seasonal surges and ongoing need for workers, we’re particularly dependent on migrant workers. These vital immigrant workers and their families face constant fear and danger of deportation while working hard every day to provide our country with a stable and abundant food supply. They deserve the stability of job security and peace of mind while working in one of the toughest industries in America.
A solution to improving the lives of farmworkers and meeting the needs of the agriculture industry already exists: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The bipartisan bill is a compromise that will benefit immigrants working in agriculture and help sustain the labor supply for agricultural businesses necessary for a thriving and growing agricultural economy. If enacted, this bill would put undocumented farmworkers on a path to citizenship and improve the H-2A temporary worker program, resulting in the legalization of about 1 million farm workers and their families. By securing a reliable and skilled workforce, agriculture will be freed from the fear of crops rotting in the fields for a lack of hands to harvest them and of foreign producers exploiting our labor shortage to gain market share.
The bill maps out an earned legalization program, which will first require undocumented immigrants to apply for a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status and work toward having Legal Permanent Resident status. The compromise bill also maintains many of the existing protections in the current H-2A program, including preserving the Department of Labor’s role as the administrator of the program.
Furthermore, the bill would institute mandatory E-verify for agricultural employers after the legalization program for undocumented farmworkers has been implemented. The E-verify provisions in the bill address some of the current flaws in the system and strengthen protections against discrimination.
There is already substantial support for this legislation from many members of Congress from both parties, including Michigan cosponsors Reps. Fred Upton, Elissa Slotkin and Paul Mitchell. It is critical that our Michigan congressional delegation supports the Farm Workforce Modernization Act as it is considered by the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.
When it comes to sustaining our agricultural sector, we need to work across the aisle to ensure that our farmworkers are receiving the support they rightfully deserve. Not only will the bill benefit the agricultural industry and the U.S. economy, but it will also finally provide a path to legal status for the immigrant farmworkers who feed America.
Jim Byrum is president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.