The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved with bipartisan support the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, a bill that will alter national immigration laws and offer more provisions for agricultural workers and employers.
Senators began working on the bill months ago, with a group of eight drafting initial legislation for committee consideration. After five markup sessions and consideration of more than 200 amendments, the bill passed 13-5.
A portion of the bill which pertains to agricultural immigration was specifically drafted with the help of agricultural employees and employers, as well as Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Under the legislation, farm workers would be provided a path to citizenship based on commitment to working in agriculture through a "blue card" provision. Additionally, the plan would instate a visa program that allows farm owners to employ non-seasonal workers.
Overall, 141 of the 212 amendments to the bill were adopted, though the original bill remained largely intact.
The bill faced major hurdles as Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, disagreed on several provisions and amendments in the legislation.
Grassley ultimately voted against the bill, however noting that he believed it was necessary to "move the bill along" and he wouldn't know until the final bill is called up for vote if it is something he can support.
Ag interests were generally supportive of the bill that moved through committee Tuesday. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman explained that the best way to improve border security is to create a legal way for farm workers to enter the country.
"The success of American agriculture depends on the workers who show up every day and work in partnership with our nation's farm and ranch families to tend our crops and livestock," Stallman said in a statement. "Agricultural labor reform is not about whether foreign workers will grow and harvest our food. That is a matter of fact. It is about whether those foreign workers will tend crops here in the United States, or in their home countries. We believe American food grown on American soil is the best option."
The United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez similarly noted that agricultural provisions in the bill are allowing workers to look forward to temporary legal status and the right to citizenship.
"The legislation is a truly bipartisan effort that calls for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.," Rodriguez noted.
UFW estimates there are two million farm laborers in the U.S.; 600,000 of those are U.S. Citizens or permanent legal residents.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday will hold a hearing regarding the Senate Judiciary Committee-passed immigration bill. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement that he was "concerned" about many issues in the Senate bill, noting that it is "just one of many options."
The Senate is expected to consider its legislation on the floor in June.