Rep. Newhouse’s citizenship bill meets opposition from farmworker groups

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Lawmakers in Congress, including Eastern Washington Representative Dan Newhouse, are working on a bill that would give farmworkers a path to citizenship, but multiple farmworker groups would like to see it die in the Senate for a second time.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, co-sponsored by Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), passed the House in 2019 before stalling in the Senate.

It was reintroduced on March 3, 2021. According to a press release,  the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, aims to ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers.

“American agriculture is desperately in need of a legal, reliable workforce. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is a solution – negotiated in good faith by agriculture groups, labor representatives, and Members on both sides of the aisle – that will do just that,” said Rep. Newhouse. “As one of only a few farmers in Congress, I understand the invaluable contributions our producers and farmworkers make to our nation’s unparalleled agriculture industry. Bringing our agriculture labor program into the 21st century is absolutely critical as we work to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and ensure a stable food supply chain in the United States. We must act now to provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers across the country.”

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The Bill has gained bipartisan support as well as support from President Biden. However, there is also strong opposition to the bill, including one organizer and activist who has fought for farmworker rights for over 30 years. Rosalinda Guillen Considers herself a liberated farm worker. She’s the founder of Community to Community Development in Washington, a group led by women of color who fight for better farm-working conditions.

“I am a farm worker that understands the nature of the work itself that understands the nature of what created the work and what’s needed to survive as a farmworker in the United States,” said Guillen.

After reviewing the Farm Workforce Modernization act she strongly disagrees with its classification as a bill that would provide a path to legal status for more than a million farmworkers in the U.S.

“They give you citizenship if you meet all of these criteria’s and in our opinion part of that criteria is agreeing to a period of indentured servitude in the agricultural industry it isn’t about actually being in the United States and choosing options for improving your family and yourself your wages your working conditions it focuses thing on actually how do you serve the agriculture industry best so that you can prove that you deserve legalization and additional so you can prove that you deserve citizenship,” said Guillen.

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Members of the Food Chain Workers Alliance also oppose the bill, saying  “It would set a dangerous precedent, divide workers and ultimately make conditions even more difficult for farmworkers across the country.” 

Members of the FCWA and Guillen argue undocumented farmworkers working during the pandemic have earned citizenship.

“You know the facts. There has been a disproportionate number of sickness and death in the farmworker community just in Washington state, let alone the county. What more do you need to prove? That you’re essential and you deserve legalization now? I mean why do we have to go through all this other criteria that you’re putting into this 980-page bill? It’s offensive. It’s racist. It’s inconsiderate, and we’re asking our Washington state representatives to take a position and say no we can do better than this,” Guillen said.

As of now, the bill is being reviewed by a committee before being sent to the Senate. A one-page summary of the bill provided by the Office of Rep Dan Newhouse here.

The bill provides for the Secs of USDA and DHS to enhance rural access for employers to verify employment status, including the use of FSA offices or preliminary telephonic verification.

The E-Verify system is required to return a response within 3 days after the initial inquiry. Employers are verifying status, not the potential employee.

It is currently and would remain unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based on immigration status or nationality. If the employee is hired, they are required to give required employment verification documents. The employer cannot terminate or rescind employment unless DHS determines the employee is not authorized for employment in the US. The employee also has the opportunity to appeal DHS’s determination assuming the employee has the required documents.

“(g) Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices And The System.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—In addition to the prohibitions on discrimination set forth in section 274B, it is an unfair immigration-related employment practice for a person or entity, in the course of utilizing the System—

“(A) to use the System for screening an applicant prior to the date of hire;

“(B) to terminate the employment of an individual or take any adverse employment action with respect to that individual due to a tentative non-confirmation issued by the System;

“(C) to use the System to screen any individual for any purpose other than confirmation of identity and employment authorization as provided in this section;

“(D) to use the System to verify the identity and employment authorization of a current employee, including an employee continuing in employment, other than re-verification authorized under subsection (c);

“(E) to use the System to discriminate based on national origin or citizenship status;

“(F) to willfully fail to provide an individual with any notice required under this title;

“(G) to require an individual to make an inquiry under the self-verification procedures described in subsection (a)(4)(B) or to provide the results of such an inquiry as a condition of employment, or hiring, recruiting, or referring; or

“(H) to terminate the employment of an individual or take any adverse employment action with respect to that individual based upon the need to verify the identity and employment authorization of the individual as required by subsection (b).

Here is a statement from Congressman Newhouse:

“That is factually incorrect, as anyone who has read the text of the bill would agree. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act does not exclude law-abiding agricultural workers and aims to provide a viable, reliable agriculture labor program for our nation’s producers. Legal status is something to be earned, and this bill finally establishes a pathway to do so for workers who have been living in the shadows.”

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