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Industry, farm worker advocates agree

(Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: WASHINGTON -- The agricultural industry and farm worker advocates have agreed to a legislative proposal that would allow about 500,000 undocumented immigrant farm workers already in the country to become legal residents and make employing farm labor easier.

The groups, which for years have fought over wages and working conditions, hailed the proposal. The bill could help ensure a stable work force for the nation's farms, while also bringing undocumented farm workers and their families ``out of the shadows,'' said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, one of the sponsors.

``Time is running out for American agriculture, farmworkers and consumers. What was a problem years ago is a crisis today and will be a catastrophe if we do not act immediately,'' said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, another sponsor, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.

About 7 million undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico, are believed to be in the United States. U.S. negotiations with Mexico for an agreement on hiring migrant workers stalled after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when U.S. focus shifted to enhancing border security to prevent the entry of terrorists.

The agriculture proposal would reform the H2A visa program under which agriculture employers can hire immigrants as temporary farm hands after showing they can't find U.S. workers. Growers have often complained that the program is too bureaucratic and burdensome.

The legislation would ease some of the program's rules. The bill also proposes to freeze wages for certain farm workers for three years at the level in place on Jan. 1, 2003 while Congress studies what their pay should be.

The bill would allow eligible undocumented workers already in the United States to apply for temporary worker status. Their spouses and children also would be allowed to stay in the United States, but could not work. Eventually, after a longer period of work, these workers and their families would be eligible for permanent residency.

Immigrants not already in the country would be allowed come to the United States as temporary workers for up to three years. After that they would have to return to their country of origin.

Farm worker advocates have pushed for years for legalization to help protect workers from abuse and exploitation.

The new bill, said Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers president, ``grants freedom from fear to hundreds of thousands of the hardest working, lowest-paid, taxpaying workers in America.''

On the Net: United Farm Workers of America: http://www.ufw.org

National Council of Agricultural Employers: http://www.ncaeonline.org/

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Farm-Workers.html