Farm-immigration measure dropped from fed spending bill

Groups said including it would help migrants, lower food costs

By: - December 23, 2022 4:50 am

Workers pick tomatoes at a farm owned and operated by Pacific Tomato Growers on Feb. 19, 2021 in Immokalee, Florida. The workers, who are in the country on an agricultural visa, are mostly from Mexico. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As Congress feverishly worked to finalize a $1.7 trillion spending bill, Dreamers, migrant farmworkers, farmers and advocates are disappointed that immigration reforms were dropped. At least one group is blaming Republicans for wanting to complain about immigration without doing anything to fix it.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday completed work on the spending bill as members hurried to get out of Washington, D.C. ahead of a severe winter storm expected to clobber much of the country into Friday. Most Democrats and moderate Republicans also were anxious to pass a long-term spending bill before the new GOP-led House convenes because they fear that some of the more radical representatives will threaten to shut down the government or default on its debt next year if they don’t get their way.

But in the work to finalize the spending bill, two immigration-related measures were dropped.

One, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would change immigration rules for farmworkers and place temporary caps on their wages in exchange. The measure would create “certified agricultural worker” status for certain foreign farm employees, allowing them to stay in the United States for 5.5 years and could be extended. After meeting certain requirements, those workers would be able to apply for permanent-resident status.

The other would have protected 2 million “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors — in exchange for stepped-up enforcement against the other 9 million undocumented migrants who are also in the country. About 600,000 of the Dreamers are protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but advocates fear that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike it down after repeated Republican lawsuits against it. 

It appears that the measures failed to attract the support of the 10 Republican senators needed to muster a filibuster-proof majority.

The advocacy group American Business Immigration Coalition Action worked hard for passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which it said would substantially ease the impact of rising food costs by easing the farm labor shortage and temporarily capping the wages of migrant workers with H-2A visas. The group also supported reforms intended to protect Dreamers.

In a statement, its executive director, Rebecca Shi, said that some Republicans would rather complain about problems at the border than do anything to solve them. She also tweaked Democrats for not making the issues a high priority.

“We regret that this Congress failed to show the courage to advance immigration solutions for farm workers and farmers, for Dreamers and the U.S. economy and consumers. There is a reason why Congress is one of the most unpopular institutions in our nation,” Shi said. “At the end of the day, Republicans still prefer to complain about the border than to compromise on solutions, and Democrats have much higher priorities than standing up for hard working immigrants.”

Shi said that more than 90% of Dreamers protected by DACA are either employed, in school or serve in the military. She said that giving them legal protections “would create more than 1.4 million jobs for Americans and $46 billion in economic spending.”

As for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, Shi said “America’s farmers are struggling to find the workers they need to stay in business, driving record high food inflation. American families are spending 20% more for their holiday dinners this year including 21% more for meats, milk and eggs. Meanwhile, according to the USDA, next year, for the first time in U.S. history, we as a country will be importing more agricultural goods than we export.”

Danilo Zak, Vice President of the American Immigration Forum, said it was a big disappointment that the farmworker measure didn’t make it into the spending bill.

“We’ve got crops rotting in the fields because we don’t have enough workers,” he said.

Zak added, though, that because 30 House Republicans voted for a similar version of the bill this year, he hopes it will be taken up in 2023. It would be a way for the Republican House to show that it’s interested in bipartisan solutions that affect constituents everywhere.

As for the legislation protecting Dreamers, “The time was too short to go from that framework to getting 60 votes,” Zak said.

He added that while the spending bill is bad news for farmworkers and Dreamers, it holds some good news for refugees coming across the border. It adds money for border enforcement, but it also increases spending on systems to process asylum claims and it adds funds for non-profits that house and feed asylum seekers when they get here, Zak said.



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.