STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - January 18, 2007)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it's a privilege to join Senators FEINSTEIN and CRAIG and my other colleagues today as we re-introduce the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2007. I commend them and Representatives HOWARD BERMAN and CHRIS CANNON for their bipartisan leadership and am pleased to be part to this landmark legislation.
The bill reflects a far-reaching and welcome agreement between the United Farm Workers and the agricultural industry, one of the most difficult immigration challenges we face, and we in Congress should make the most of this unique opportunity for progress.
America has a proud tradition as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. But our current immigration laws have failed us on both counts. Much of the Nation's economy today depends on the hard work and the many contributions of immigrants. The agricultural industry would grind to a halt without immigrant farm workers. Yet, the overwhelming majority of these workers lack legal status, and thus can be easily exploited by unscrupulous employers.
The Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act--AgJOBS--is an opportunity to correct these long-festering problems. It will give farm workers and their families the dignity and justice they deserve, and it will give agricultural employees a legal workforce.
This compromise has broad support in Congress, and from business and labor, civic and faith-based organizations, liberals and conservatives, trade associations and immigrant rights groups.
The AgJOBS Act is a needed reform in our immigration laws, to reflect current economic realities, address our security needs more effectively, and do so in a way that respects America's immigrant heritage. It provides a fair and reasonable way for undocumented agricultural workers to earn legal status and also reforms the current visa program, so that employers unable to find American workers can hire needed foreign workers. Together they serve as the cornerstone for comprehensive immigration reform of the agricultural sector.
AgJOBS is good for labor and business. The Nation can no longer ignore the fact that more than half of our agricultural workers are undocumented. Growers need an immediate, reliable and legal workforce at harvest time. Farm workers need legal status to improve their wages and working conditions. Everyone is harmed when crops rot in the field because of the lack of an adequate labor force.
The AgJOBS Act provides a fair and reasonable process for undocumented agricultural workers to earn legal status. Undocumented farm workers are clearly vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous labor contractors and growers, and their illegal status deprives them of bargaining power and depresses the wages of all farm workers. Our bill provides fair solutions for undocumented workers who have been toiling in our fields, harvesting our fruits and vegetables.
The bill is not an amnesty. To earn the right to remain in this country, workers would not only have to demonstrate past work contributions to the U.S. economy, but also make a substantial future work commitment. These workers will be able to come forward, identify themselves, provide evidence that they have been employed in agriculture, and continue to work hard and play by the rules.
The legislation will also modify the current temporary foreign agricultural worker program, while preserving and enhancing key labor protections. It strikes a fair balance and streamlines the H-2A program's application process by reducing paperwork for employers and accelerate processing. But individuals participating in the program receive strong labor protections. Anything else would undermine the jobs, wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.
This legislation would unify families. When temporary residence is granted, the farm worker's spouse and minor children would be allowed to remain legally in the U.S., but they would not be authorized to work. When the worker becomes a permanent resident, the spouse and minor children would also gain such status.
AgJOBS will also enhance national security and reduce illegal immigration. AgJOBS will also reduce the chaotic, illegal, and all-too-deadly flows of immigrants at our borders by providing safe and legal avenues for farm workers and their families. Future temporary workers will be carefully screened to meet security concerns. Enforcement resources will be more effectively focused on the highest risks. By bringing undocumented farm workers out of the shadows and require them to pass thorough security checks, it will enable our officers to more effectively train their sights on terrorists and criminals.
Last year, the Senate came together--Democrats and Republicans--to pass farreaching immigration reform legislation, which included the AgJOBS bill. The American people are calling on us to come together again. They know there is a crisis and they want action now.
The President has been a leader on immigration reform, and I'm hopeful that he will renew his efforts with members of his party, so that we can enact comprehensive reform legislation, to end the festering crisis once and for all. The House of Representatives is now ready to be a genuine partner in this effort.
By heritage and history, America is a nation of immigrants. Our legislation proposes necessary changes in the law while preserving this tradition. This bill will ensure that immigrant farm workers can live the American dream and contribute to our prosperity, our security, and our values and I hope very much that it can be enacted quickly in this new Congress.
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