Farmworker groups say Biden's immigration plan 'fundamentally different' than any previous president
President Joe Biden’s immigration overhaul putting the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants at its center would immediately prioritize eligible farmworkers, alongside Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries, for green cards. Farmworkers and their advocates heaped praise on the bold plan, which was unveiled on Biden’s first day in office and includes provisions championed by Vice President Kamala Harris when she served as the senator from California.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 “is fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear and behave like free women and men,” United Farm Workers (UFW) Teresa Romero said in a statement. “Not only is its content remarkable, but never before has a U.S. president presented his own comprehensive immigration reform measure on Day One in office. Now we must work to turn this vision into reality.”
According to a joint statement from UFW and UFW Foundation, farmworkers would be eligible for immediate legalization under the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 if they “pass criminal background checks and show they have labored in agriculture at least 100 days in four of the previous five years.” The groups note that the legislation contains overtime pay protections supported by then-Sen. Harris in the Fairness for Farmworkers Act she introduced in 2018.
“After a steady barrage of racist and anti-immigrant messages in 2020, for five years under Trump and over decades from other Republican candidates, large majorities of Americans—including many GOP voters—support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants who comprise more than two-thirds of the ‘essential’ front-line workers helping America survive COVID-19, including farm workers,” UFW and UFW Foundation continued.
At least half of all farmworkers lack legal status, according to Farmworker Justice. The urgency to quickly protect them has heightened as Democrats have taken control of both houses of Congress. Among those voices has been Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who last week said that undocumented immigrants who have served as essential workers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic should be put on an expedited path to citizenship.
“I think that these undocumented immigrants who have been essential workers during this pandemic should be on a fast-track to citizenship, because I think that they have earned it,” he told MSNBC’s American Voices with Alicia Menendez. “The government and the states asked them—in fact, in many ways, the Trump administration forced them to continue working in places like meatpacking plants, even though COVID was widespread in these things.” That farmworkers are being prioritized in this proposed immigration overhaul isn’t just a testament to their vital role in feeding America, but also to their organizing.
Ruben, an 18-year-old farmworker and college student, said in the statement that he got out the vote for the Biden campaign in Arizona to help protect families like his own. 2020 also marked the first time he voted in a presidential election. “My older brother is a DACA recipient,” he said. “Why should his opportunities in life be limited. My parents are farm workers. How are we honoring their sacrifices? The Latino community worked relentlessly to mobilize for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Our work isn’t done until we make sure our families have a fair path forward.”
Vicente, another farmworker and UFW Foundation member, said in the statement that “[t]he last four years have been incredibly difficult for undocumented farm worker families like mine. President Biden’s immigration bill is the outcome of many decades of farm workers organizing and fighting for their rights. We are hopeful of the possibility that one day we will be relieved from the fear of deportation that has haunted us all these years.”
Observers noted in the opening hours of the new administration that Biden’s Oval Office contains a bust of UFW Co-founder César Chávez directly behind the Resolute Desk. Judging by the policies, the bust is definitely more than just symbolic. “By electing Joe Biden, this country soundly rejected bigoted, anti-immigrant deeds and rhetoric,” Romero continued. “Elections do have consequences. One consequence is the genuine relief the Biden plan will offer agricultural workers who for years have lived in constant terror.”