A Farmworker Bill Backed By Sen. Bennet Could Provide A Path To Permanent Residency For Workers

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Susan Walsh/AP
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, before the start of the third day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet wants to make sure Colorado farmers have the labor they need to keep America fed.

Bennet said without protections, he's worried farms will move out of the country. 

“People have been telling us that for 20 years and it's literally happening before our eyes. We have a decision to make, and that decision is do we want to support American agriculture and if we do, we will find a way to pass this bill,” he said. 

He’s teamed up with Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and the two plan to introduce a version of the farmworker labor bill. 

In March, the American Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House, 247-174. The bill would provide a pathway to permanent residency for farm workers and would make changes to the H-2A temporary worker program.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined the two senators last week to meet with farm and farmworker groups to discuss the bill. Vilsack said these are stressful times for farmers.

“It is a crisis out on the farm,” he said “(There’s a) deep concern about — not just about the current workforce — but the future of the workforce.”

He said the groups put together “a constructive framework” to get a stable and reliable workforce that is treated with respect. He also stressed that he’s committed to working with the senators to get it done this year.

But getting to 60 votes in the Senate could be a challenge. Only 30 Republicans in the House crossed the aisle to support the bill. Colorado’s House delegation was split along party lines, with Democrats voting for the bill and Republicans voting against. The lone Colorado Republican who supported the original 2019 version of the bill was Scott Tipton who lost his primary seat to Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert. She used this vote to claim he supported an amnesty bill.

Bennet said there might be some tweaks to the bill, but he said the House negotiations on the bill were significant. “Both sides gave (in).”

Vilsack said more than 300 farm groups support this bill. And he added that he expects some groups that opposed the bill last time around to come around given the pressing labor needs from the economic distress caused by the pandemic.

Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, a group that represents family farmers in the West, was at the roundtable talk. He said supporters of agricultural immigration reform are used to running into walls. He was encouraged by what he heard and the willingness of senators from across the aisle linking arms with Sec. Vilsack to push.

“We’ve hashed this out over and over again to the point now that we’re all very confident that we have the right policy solution,” Puglia said “The challenge, of course, is always the politics.”

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