STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - January 18, 2007)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, the last Congress worked long and hard to resolve one of the most contentious issues of our time: immigration. As many of our colleagues know, while a number of border enforcement measures were enacted, we did not complete all the critical elements of a comprehensive strategy on immigration reform.
Today, I am joining with Senators Feinstein, Kennedy, Specter, Leahy, Martinez, Voinovich, McCain, Hagel, Domenici, Boxer, Clinton, Obama, Kohl, Salazar, Murray, and Schumer in reintroducing legislation to address a very important piece of that unfinished business: the establishment of a workable, secure, effective temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with jobs that Americans are unwilling or unable to perform.
Our legislation is specific to U.S. agriculture, because this economic sector, more than any other, has become dependent for its existence on the labor of immigrants who are here without legal documentation. The only program currently in place to respond to a lack of legal domestic agricultural workers, the H-2A Guest Worker Program, is profoundly broken. Outside of H-2A, farm employers have no effective, reliable assurance that their employees are legal.
The bill we are reintroducing is called AgJOBS--the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act. This bill was part of the comprehensive immigration legislation passed last year by the Senate. Today's version incorporates a few language changes that update, but do not substantively amend, that measure.
We are reintroducing AgJOBS to fix the serious flaws that plague our country's current agricultural labor system. Agriculture has unique workforce needs because of the special nature of its products and production, and our bill addresses those needs.
Our bill offers a thoughtful, thorough, two-step solution. On a one-time basis, experienced, trusted workers with a significant work history in American agriculture would be allowed to stay here legally and earn adjustment to legal status. For workers and growers using the H-2A legal guest worker program, that program would be overhauled and made more streamlined, practical, and secure.
This legislation has been tested and examined for years in the Senate and House of Representatives, and it remains the best alternative for resolving urgent problems in our agriculture that require immediate attention. That is why AgJOBS has been endorsed by a historic, broad-based coalition of more than 400 national, State, and local organizations, including farmworkers, growers, the general business community, Latino and immigration issue groups, taxpayer groups, other public interest organizations, State directors of agriculture, and religious groups.
We all want and need a stable, predictable, legal workforce in American agriculture. Willing American workers deserve a system that puts them first in line for available jobs with fair market wages. All workers should receive decent treatment and protection of fundamental legal rights. Consumers deserve a safe, stable, domestic food supply. American citizens and taxpayers deserve secure borders and a government that works.
AgJOBS would serve all these goals.
Last year, we saw millions of dollars' worth of produce rot in the fields for lack of workers. We are beginning to hear talk of farms moving out of the country, moving to the foreign workforce. All Americans face the danger of losing more and more of our safe, domestic food supply to imports.
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. I urge my colleagues to demonstrate their support for U.S. agriculture by cosponsoring the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act--AgJOBS 2007--and by helping us pass this critical legislation as soon as possible.
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