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Farmworker Reform Bill Passes House. What's Next?
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 years ago on
December 12, 2019

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The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate — and potentially President Donald Trump — is about to learn what it’s like to take on America’s farmers.


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“But the race is far from over. Both the Senate and President Trump must be willing to take the political stand that is required to ensure the continued production of an abundant, safe and affordable domestic food supply.” — Statement from Western Growers
The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House of Representatives, 260-165, on Wednesday. Ag groups immediately celebrated and then quickly pivoted to the challenges ahead.
“Another hurdle in the race to save America’s family farms has been cleared. Western Growers is grateful for the leadership exhibited by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Dan Newhouse, and the statesmanship demonstrated by the bipartisan group of legislators who sponsored and voted for the bill,” said Western Growers, an Irvine-based group representing farmers throughout the west.
“But the race is far from over. Both the Senate and President Trump must be willing to take the political stand that is required to ensure the continued production of an abundant, safe and affordable domestic food supply. Our farmers are depending on the present actions of Congress and the Administration to make possible the future viability of the agriculture industry.”

Reliable Ag Labor Supply, Legal Status for Workers

In a nutshell, the legislation would provide a reliable supply of workers for farmers while establishing a path for undocumented ag workers to earn legal status through continued employment in the industry. It is the first farm labor reform bill passed by the House since 1986.
So, what’s the rub?
Critics call H.R. 5038 an illegal immigration bill. And Fox News is stoking nativists with headlines such as “Farm bill panned as mass ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants heads to vote in House.”


Indicative of the tensions accompanying this bill, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) split from his party leadership to back the bill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield voted against it, as did Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, who represents some foothill and mountain regions of the central San Joaquin Valley.
You can see how the House voted at this link.

Opponents Paint the Bill as ‘Amnesty’

One question is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is willing to anger Republican senators from farming states by refusing to bring the legislation to a vote.
The other question: Who does Trump want to make happy? His base of anti-immigrant voters or farmers?
Meanwhile, lawmakers from America’s ag states are pretty happy with what they accomplished Wednesday.

Cox, Costa Weigh in

“It was a priority for me to be part of this bipartisan process because today there are people in my district who may go the rest of their lives without seeing their loved ones outside the U.S., for fear of getting picked up and being undocumented,” said Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno).
“There are also farmers in my district whose dairies will or already have gone under, partly because they don’t have a steady source of skilled agricultural workers. We shouldn’t accept this policy failure by our government as the status quo.”
Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa took to Twitter to call attention to the bill before the vote.


After the vote, Costa said: “This is a historic moment for farming communities across America, especially here in California and the San Joaquin Valley. Farmworkers are part of our communities and are some of the hardest working people I’ve met.”

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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