Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave a floor speech last week announcing the reintroduction of the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS) of 2009. Feinstein painted a picture of the realities confronting greenhouse workers and workers in similar industries.
“Many green industry employers in the growing community are struggling to use the current H-2A program,” says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and vice president for government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association. “Many more are fearful about the immigration status of key, experienced and trusted employees.”
Labor shortages already resulted in decisions by farm owners and managers to scale back or cease production, or even move operations offshore. Localized and costly labor shortages have also been reported in recent years, and could worsen unless Congress addresses the situation.
AgJOBS, when enacted, will overhaul the decades-old H-2A program to make it more affordable and efficient and less litigation-prone. It will also allow experienced workers, who lack proper immigration status, to earn residency over time if they meet strict conditions.
According to Regelbrugge, it is remarkable that the AgJOBS agreement between farm worker advocates and farm employer groups has stood the test of time, despite the shifting political climate. AgJOBS could be considered by Congress later this year as part of a broader immigration debate, or as a key component of a smaller incremental step forward.