California’s Republican House delegation has been slow to join President Donald Trump on the ramparts when it comes to shutting U.S. borders and sharply restricting immigration.
Their reluctance to join the effort stems from the fact that most of them represent the agriculture areas of the state, which employ an estimated 500,000 workers who are in the country illegally. If immigration hardliners ever succeed in throwing those people out of the country, California’s ag industry will literally die on the vine.
So a bipartisan group of representatives got together recently to negotiate a bill that will give legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal farmworkers in exchange for stronger employee verification in the agricultural sector.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, chair of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, led negotiations on the deal with Republicans Rep. Doug LaMalfa and Don Newhouse of Washington state.
“The men and women who work America’s farms feed the nation,” Lofgren said in a statement. “But farmworkers across the country are living and working with uncertainty and fear, contributing to the destabilization of farms across the nation. Our bill offers stability for American farmers.”
The bill offers a path to legal status–either five-year visas or citizenship–for longtime U.S. agriculture workers with clean records. It would also overhaul the farm visa system to make it easier for employers to file applications, would limit mandatory wage increases, and would provide year-round visas for industries like dairy farms that aren’t seasonal.
The bill also incorporates legislation by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, beefing up the system for verifying a worker’s immigration status in the U.S. and making it mandatory for the agricultural industry.
The House may take up the measure as early as the end of November, but nobody’s sure about its prospects in the Senate. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the White House has been briefed on the bill, but it is not known if the measure has Trump’s backing.
LaMalfa emphasized the bill’s narrow scope, noting that it applies only to the agriculture sector, and said he believes it would be a win for Trump. He said he hopes it can be kept “in its own protective little bubble,” away from the fight over broader immigration policy.
“Agriculture’s been in desperate need of a stable, solid labor pool for a long time,” LaMalfa said. “A formal system of documentation will be better for the workers, it’ll be better for the farmers, it will be better for the nation’s security.”
If the bill reaches the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein has said she will support it. But the bill will never come to a vote if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t get an indication from the White House that Trump will sign it.
You can bet immigration hardliners will oppose the measure, and Trump has made it clear in recently months that he is going to punish California. But LaMalfa has been one of Trump’s more reliable foot soldiers in the House. We’ll see if that does any good.