Agriculture Secretary: Foreign workers need to be protected

Agriculture Secretary: Foreign workers need to be protected

On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, the 32nd US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commented on the importance of protecting foreign farm workers in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is in the midst of discussions and debates regarding several immigration bills.

Vilsack openly stated that since the food and agriculture industry is absolutely essential to the American population and represents 20% of the national economy, it is imperative to understand who are the workers that keep this sector afloat and why it is important to protect them in order to ultimately protect local communities and the country’s financial stability.

The Agriculture Secretary explained that between 2.4 and 2.5 million farm workers come from other countries, that is, they are foreigners. Adding to that, between 50% and 70% of these essential farm workers are undocumented foreigners.

Other than that, Vilsack argued that there have been countless occasions when agricultural employers have been unable to find American workers to be part of agricultural projects that involve planting or harvesting food for local families. Thus, he explained, “It is clear that this industry is dependent on immigrant workers”.

Now, Vilsack’s purpose was to expose these facts in order to emphasize the importance of protecting undocumented foreign farm workers from deportation. In his opinion, this is the only way to strengthen the food and agricultural industry, which is almost entirely dependent on foreign workforce. Therefore, Vilsack stated that the Senate must pass legislation “to provide the respect and dignity to the farm workers who are working so hard to make this system what it is today”.

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Immigration bill for undocumented foreign farm workers

The Agriculture Secretary commented specifically about an immigration bill called the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act”, which was already passed by the US House of Representatives and is currently under Senate review.

Broadly speaking, this immigration bill would allow eligible foreign farm workers, who are currently undocumented, to have the opportunity to apply for temporary legal status and even apply for lawful permanent residency. If passed by the Senate, this bill would benefit approximately 1.2 million foreign farm workers.

Vilsack states that it is extremely important for Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform primarily because, in his opinion, the local immigration system is broken and the only legitimate option for foreign agricultural workers (the H-2A visa program) is uncertain, unstable and disorganized. Therefore, he states that it is better to act soon and protect these essential workers before having to face an almost irreparable workforce shortage in a sector as important as agriculture.

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