Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Thursday announced a new plan to provide a path to legalization for thousands and possibly millions of farm and agriculture workers and their families nationwide. Voces Unidas is among a coalition of farmers and ranchers, agricultural workers, labor organizations, and immigration advocates in support of Bennet’s Affordable and Secure Food Act designed to reform the outdated H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker program by providing protections to the families that feed America.
These days, just about anyone who buys groceries realizes that America’s agricultural system is broken. In the last year, food costs rose faster than any time in the last four decades, squeezing family budgets and forcing impossible choices between food, groceries, medicine, and housing.
And while we all see the impacts of higher food prices, what most people don’t recognize is that much of the cause can be attributed to the flawed H-2A visa program that has created a shortage of skilled farm labor due to lack of protections and uncertain legal status. The unmet demand for labor leads to increased labor costs, which not only drives up food prices but also drives many family farms and ranches out of business.
The workers are out there. Unfortunately, many of them live in fear because of the broken immigration system and visa program that currently fails them and keeps them from taking jobs. The Affordable and Secure Food Act (ASFA) intends to diminish those fears by expanding H-2A visas to year-round jobs for the first time, modernizing the application process, creating more wage certainty, and ensuring critical protections for farm workers.
Specifically, the ASFA would:
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.
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.
Establish a mandatory, nationwide electronic verification system for all agricultural employment, with high standards for privacy and accuracy.
Lower the cost of and increase access to farm workers and rural housing.
U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), and David Valadao (R-Calif.) joined Sen. Bennet on Thursday to announce their support for the ASFA as an important step in immigration reform by recognizing the essential role the Latino community plays in the nation’s food supply chain. Voces Unidas is encouraged by these important discussions in Washington, DC, and we look forward to our continued participation in the effort to find much needed solutions to an outdated system so that the people who work in these communities will have an opportunity to emerge from the shadows and thrive.
"We are grateful to Senator Bennet for his commitment to our community members who work on farms and ranches all across Colorado and are responsible for feeding the country,” said Alex Sánchez, President and CEO of Voces Unidas. “This critical legislation will create certainty for farm workers, bringing them and their families out of the shadows, and will also secure the nation's food supply with a more stable workforce. We urge Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”
Voces Unidas is working in coalition with other Western Slope partners like Hispanic Affairs Project to advocate for much needed reforms to protect and support working families.
"We are grateful to Senator Bennet for supporting our essential farm workers and proposing common-sense policy solutions to secure the nation’s food supply with a more stable workforce,” said Ricardo Perez, Executive Director of Hispanic Affairs Project, a grassroots organization based in the Western Slope. “This critical legislation supports farmers, ranchers, other workers and businesses that sustain and feed our nation, and we urge Congress to take immediate action."