House Judiciary approves ag guestworker, E-Verify bills |

House Judiciary approves ag guestworker, E-Verify bills

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill to create an agricultural guest worker program to replace the H-2A visa program, and approved a separate bill to require U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all future hires through the E-Verify system.

The vote on the Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act) was a narrow 17-16. The vote was so close because 14 Democrats and Republicans Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas voted against it, while five other Republicans abstained.

The committee rejected a series of amendments offered by Democrats to provide alternatives to the bill, which Democrats say would lead to lower wages for American workers.

The close vote means the likelihood that the bill will move to the House floor is low.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, praised the bill, saying “It’s time for an ag worker program that both respects our nation’s immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive.”

Noting that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is a former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Conaway said Goodlatte “understands the challenges facing farmers and ranchers.”

“His bill cuts red tape and institutes a flexible program that accounts for the different labor needs of various producers — be it the ongoing needs of a dairy operation or the seasonal needs of specialty crop farmers. I look forward to working with the ag community and Chairman Goodlatte to help shepherd this legislation through the House.”

The National Milk Producers Federation praised the committee for acting on a bill that would allow farm employers to hire foreign workers on a year round basis but still said the act is “not ideal.”

NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern said “The AG Act is the first step in a long process of establishing a workable solution for dairy farmers’ labor needs. It recognizes that we must improve on the current system by pursuing a new approach to matching the supply and demand for workers in U.S. agriculture.”

While many agriculture groups have endorsed the process of writing an immigration bill, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition today sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opposing the bill in its current form.

The vote on the Legal Workforce Act that requires use of E-Verify was 20 to 10.

The United Fresh Produce Association has said that Congress must not enact a tougher E-Verify law before providing American agriculture with a system to get immigrant farm workers.