Ahead of Cesar Chavez Day, Durbin, Bennet, Stabenow, Senate Colleagues Reintroduce Bill to Support Farm Workers, Address Agricultural Labor Crisis

Legislation would reform H-2A Visa Program, create wage certainty for farmers, provide pathway to legal status for undocumented farm workers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, along with U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), member and Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, alongside U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Fetterman (D-PA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Hickenlooper (D-CO) reintroduced the Affordable and Secure Food Act.  This legislation would reform America’s temporary agricultural worker program, provide farm workers with certainty and a pathway to legal status after ten years, and provide relief to farmers and ranchers facing a labor workforce crisis.

The Senators introduced the legislation in anticipation of Cesar Chavez Day on March 31.  This day commemorates the legacy of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.

“Today, our nation’s broken immigration system makes it difficult for America’s farms and factories to recruit and retain the workers they need,” said Durbin.  “Congress must put partisanship aside and come together to modernize our nation’s immigration system so that our nation has a secure, affordable, and steady food supply.  We must also ensure that millions of undocumented farm workers have a path to citizenship and all those who put food on our tables have the labor protections they deserve.  Enacting the Affordable and Secure Food Act should be part of the solution.”

“The Affordable and Secure Food Act is our common-sense proposal to address America’s agricultural labor crisis, bring certainty to hundreds of thousands of farm workers living in the shadows, and lower food costs for Coloradans,” said Bennet. “If we don’t get this done, more family farms and ranches will go out of business, more farm workers will continue to live with fear and uncertainty, and more families will continue to feel the squeeze of high food prices.”

“Michigan is one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the country, and I hear farmers across my state loudly and clearly. Labor shortages and high costs are threatening their family farms.  If Congress does not fix the flaws in our broken ag labor system, we will continue to fail our farms and farmworkers.  This bill provides both with long overdue and much-needed certainty, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done,” said Stabenow.

“Farm worker shortages drive costs up for American families and threaten our nation’s food supply,” said Gillibrand.  “The Affordable and Secure Food Act would create critical protections for farm workers, support our dairy farmers and specialty crop growers, lower food costs, and help make sure American farms and ranches stay in business.  I’ll always fight for our agricultural workers and I’m committed to working with my colleagues to get this passed.”

“Farmers in Vermont have a long and proud tradition of producing fresh, nutritious foods for communities across the country.  But ongoing labor shortages exacerbated by our broken immigration system put that tradition, and the millions of people who rely on local farms to feed their families, at risk.  Our farmers have called for reforms to agricultural worker programs to address labor shortages and provide stability in our supply chains, and it's time for us to answer that call.  The Affordable and Secure Food Act will help build a reliable workforce for our farmers by expanding opportunities for folks who want to contribute to our rural economies, and provide stability for our farmers, families, and food supply,” said Welch.

“The shortage in skilled farm workers means less food for Americans and more sticker shock at the grocery store,” said Hickenlooper.  “Providing an earned path to citizenship for farm workers keeps farmers in business, food on our tables, and is a common-sense reform to our broken immigration system.”

The Affordable and Secure Food Act reflects years of close input from farmers and ranchers, agricultural workers, and labor organizations.  The legislation reforms the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by expanding H-2A visas to year-round jobs forthe first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for farm workers.

Specifically, the bill would:

  1. Reform the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by providing H-2A visas for year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for H-2A farm workers;
  2. Establish a program for agriculture workers, along with their spouses and minor children, to earn legal status. Farm workers in the program may earn a path to a green card after 10 years of agriculture work; and
  3. Establish a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment, with high standards for privacy and accuracy.

The text of the bill is available here.  A summary of the bill is available here.  A ‘myths vs. facts’ sheet is available here.