Senate Republicans and American Farm Bureau Deny Farm Workers Legal Status
Washington, D.C. – This week, the Affordable and Secure Food Act, bipartisan compromise legislation supported by both agricultural workers and employers, was excluded from the Omnibus package at the bidding of Senate Republican leadership. The legislation was also denied a vote as an amendment to the omnibus despite similar legislation passing the House on a strong bipartisan vote. This effectively kills any possibility for farm worker legalization before the end of this Congress.
Like its House equivalent, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the Affordable and Secure Food Act delivers on several employer and Republican priorities, while giving undocumented farm workers the ability to obtain legal status. In both the 116th and 117th Congresses, farm worker organizations have come together to work with Republicans and agricultural employers to achieve this compromise that honors farm workers’ sacrifices and contributions, lowers costs for employers, and secures America’s food supply for decades to come.
Although the bill enjoyed support of grower and agricultural employer groups across the nation, including some state farm bureaus, this bipartisan legislation nevertheless was not supported by the American Farm Bureau. Rather than securing support for this carefully negotiated bipartisan compromise among the Republican Senators who the American Farm Bureau donated to, the American Farm Bureau prioritized denying legal protections to farm workers, in order to protect the worst offenders among agricultural employers, like those being prosecuted for human trafficking by Operation Blooming Onion in Georgia.
In contrast, farm workers did everything in their power to work in a bipartisan way to pass the Affordable and Secure Food Act in the Senate and the Farm Worker Modernization Act in the House. This includes multiple trips to the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers, organizing actions with allies, directing calls to congressional offices, and holding marches and rallies in multiple states over the past four years. Across the country, farm workers made clear the dramatic improvements that access to legal status would make in their lives.
“This is a very bitter disappointment for farm workers across the country who have more than earned the right to legal status through the sweat of their brow,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “It is however unsurprising that some of the most powerful grower institutions would ultimately choose to let their own workforce remain undocumented. Deep down, the leadership of the American Farm Bureau and the Senate GOP prefer to keep farm workers living in fear and uncertainty, because they know that an undocumented workforce is easier to intimidate and exploit. The American Farm Bureau would rather harm the economic interests of many growers they represent than extend any legal rights and protections to the workers whose work truly feeds America. Yet again we are reminded why building farm worker power through unionization remains the most urgent strategy in building a truly just food system.”
“Senate Republican leaders demonstrated shameful hypocrisy today—they will go home to enjoy holiday meals made possible by hard-working farm workers, all the while having blocked efforts to provide these essential workers with legal status,” said UFW Foundation Chief Executive Officer Diana Tellefson Torres. “While this is a significant setback, it won’t deter us from continuing to fight for legalization for farm workers. Our nation’s food security depends on it."
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