Two immigration bills supported by business and industry that would secure essential workers for the future for Arizona and other states sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives last month. Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton co-chaired a task force that rallied bipartisan support for its passage.
Now, in the Senate’s hands, chambers and trade groups are watching closely. Congress in the last decade has failed repeatedly to pass meaningful immigration reforms.
The two measures, the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workers Modernization Act, would secure a pathway for Dreamers to live and work here permanently without the threat of deportation and would make it possible for hundreds of thousands of immigrant farmworkers to remain in the U.S. legally as well, Stanton said.
“These two bills earned our endorsement because they do right by the immigrants who have called our country home for so long — and they’re the right thing to do for our economy,” Stanton said.
As Congress bickers, huge problems “go unaddressed”
Both bills are “critically important” for the business community and it’s time to “stop bickering about immigration and letting huge problems go unaddressed,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the largest business advocacy organization in the nation, the U.S. Chamber, that is calling on Congress to finally take action on immigration reform.
In hopes of putting their feet to the fire, the chamber will be tallying how lawmakers vote in their annual How They Voted scorecard to keep its some 300,000 members on alert.
What’s in the Dream Act and Farmworkers Modernization Act
Arizona’s Rep. Stanton co-chaired the immigration task force that garnered support in the House to successfully pass both bills with two-to-one margins. The task force operates under the auspices of a group of 94 Democrats in the House called the New Democrats. The centrist-leaning group is committed to passing policies that strengthen the economy and describes itself as “pro-economic growth,” “pro-innovation” and “fiscally responsible.”
Here’s a snapshot of the two bills:
The American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, young adults who were brought here as young children by their undcomented parents or relatives, and for certain Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients. TPS and DED allow foreign nationals to remain in the U.S. if during the time they were in the U.S. something catastrophic happened in their country of origin preventing their safe return.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1537), makes reforms to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector.
It would allow undocumented farm workers who pass necessary background checks and pay a $1,000 fine to receive temporary legal status. This status could be renewed indefinitely for as long as the individual maintains farm employment. There would also be a path to permanent residency for longtime workers, streamlining of the H-2A visa process, new wage standards, and a mandate for E-Verify for agriculture.
“These changes will help stabilize and preserve the American agricultural sector by ensuring farmers can meet their labor needs well into the future,” he said.
Both bills of particular importance to Arizona
Arizona has one of the largest populations of Dreamers in the nation, the majority of whom are in school or working, many in essential jobs including health care during the pandemic.
An analysis conducted by the New American Economy in 2019 showed that, together, individuals eligible for DACA in Arizona earn $23 billion in total household income each year and contribute $4 billion of that income to federal, state, and local taxes.
“The average Dreamer is 26 years old, speaks English, attended school here or holds a job. Many have started families of their own,” said Garrick Taylor, the interim president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “Our nation cannot continue to subject major portions of immigration policy to the whims of one administration to the next. Congress must act to deliver a durable solution rooted in law. DACA recipients should not only be shielded from deportation but should be provided a path to eventual citizenship.”
Immigrant farm workers also provide essential jobs for a key economic sector in the state. Yuma farmers, for example, supply 90 percent of all leafy vegetables in the U.S. in the winter months. A 2017 study by the University of Arizona’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Cooperative Extension, revealed the agribusiness system generates $23.3 billion in sales annually. The system directly and indirectly supports more than 138,000 Arizona jobs, employing more than 162,000 workers.