Efforts of passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) have repeatedly failed over the last 20 years. Having been burnt by past failures, Democratic leaders are clearly signaling that they will break up the CIR bill into parts that have enough Republican support in the Senate for passage into law. The two clearest candidates for early passage are DREAM and AgJOBS. Of the two, DREAM has received considerable press coverage, but AgJOBS has flown under the radar. This update focuses on AgJOBS immigration reform, and the political calculations underlying it.
- What is AgJOBS? AgJOBS is about immigration benefits for farmworkers. The number of people involved is in the range of 1 million (similar to the number of Dreamers) and there is tremendous support for it from Republicans in the Senate (again similar to support for Dream). AgJOBS offers a huge increase in future temporary H-2A visas for farm workers combined with a path to legalization for current undocumented farmworkers.
- Why is AgJOBS Needed? While farmers are committed to having a legal workforce, under current immigration law they simply cannot have it. What they need is not only to have their current workforce legalized but also to ensure the future supply of labor for their farms. That is what AgJOBS delivers to rural states where farming is a key part of the economy. Farming requires a large number of seasonal workers to bring in the harvest. This is hard work in the hot sun with a bent back and requiring heavy lifting. Farmers have been trying every trick in the book to attract American workers to rural areas for this hard labor, but are unable to find sufficient numbers of Americans to do the job. Farmers need these workers to put food on all tables across the USA.
- Why is AgJOBS Likely to Pass? As AgJOBS is a rural-benefits bill, it has strong support from rural states. Almost all Senators from rural states are conservative Republicans and farmers are their key supporters. These Senators are faced with a choice: vote for the wellbeing and economic survival of farmers who are the backbone of their state’s economy and of their political base OR to yield to a small fringe of anti-immigration advocates in their party. In the past, Republican Senators have sided with their constituents on AgJOBS, and we expect them to do it again making for an easy passage of AgJOBS in the Senate.