It’s not only young undocumented immigrants who are pushing for legislative relief during the lame duck session.
More than 60 farmworkers from nearly a dozen states are also in Washington, D.C., to urge Senate action on bipartisan legislation putting undocumented laborers onto a pathway to legalization. While the Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House more than a year ago, it has stalled in the upper chamber.
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“Despite all the backbreaking work, the blisters and pain we face, farm workers put so much effort into ensuring that we all have our fruits and vegetables on our tables,” said Arizona farmworker Maria Yolanda Bay. The joint release from advocacy organizations notes Bay’s late husband was also a farmworker. He died from COVID in 2020. “I am going to Washington D.C. because farm workers deserve legal status. We work so hard for this country.”
It’s true—and it should be noted that as farmworkers are in D.C., lawmakers are also set to return to their districts for their Thanksgiving holiday, where many will likely eat poultry, vegetables, and other items that were harvested and processed by undocumented workers.
“Farmworker Mairi Elston has never been to the Capitol before,” central California’s KVPR reports. “The Delano teenager is there with her parents to urge senators to pass the bill. The Elstons harvest fruits and vegetables in the productive Central Valley, helping to feed the nation’s families. But Mairi’s undocumented parents haven’t been able to visit their own families in Mexico in decades.”
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which first passed the House in 2019 and then again with support from 30 Republicans in March 2021, would put hundreds of thousands of farmworkers who meet certain requirements onto a path to legalization. Not only would families like Mairi’s have the protections and dignity they deserve, they would be able to reunite with loved ones they haven’t hugged in years.
“They’re scared knowing that if they go back home, they won’t be able to come back [to the U.S.],” Mairi told KVPR.
This call from farmworkers takes on even more importance as Thanksgiving approaches. At least half of the nation’s farmworkers lack legal immigration status. The Food Empowerment Project said that while the number of undocumented workers at slaughterhouses is unknown, nearly 40% are immigrants. Both groups were declared essential workers amid the pandemic, and subsequently greatly suffered from illness. But no permanent relief followed.
“This Thanksgiving, families all over the country will enjoy the food brought to their tables by farm workers,” said Diana Tellefson Torres, UFW Foundation chief executive officer. “Farm workers demonstrated during the pandemic that they are at the very core of our food security. These hardworking men and women have earned the opportunity to apply for legal status. Let’s give thanks to those who nourish this nation by passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act through Congress.”
Passing immigration legislation would also do wonders to address inflation and food prices. Republicans certainly made both into election issues. Here’s their chance to do something about it.
“It is time to provide stability for our farmworkers, certainty for our farms and affordability for our grocery shelves,” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said during a rally reported by KVPR. "We must fix the farm workforce crisis this year to protect America's food security and to lower food prices."
California’s farmworkers won a major victory this past fall when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into place legislation expanding how these laborers can vote in their union elections. Farmworkers had led a fierce effort to make the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act a reality after Newsom vetoed a similar version of it last year. In their renewed effort to get the legislation passed into law, they launched a 335-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to urge Newsom to support the bill.
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