All we want for Christmas is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act


If you’ve been around the agricultural industry for more than ten minutes, you know how challenging the labor landscape has become. “It used to be cost of water, cost of land,” berry grower Manuel Magdeleno explains in the documentary The Last Harvest, “but right now our biggest challenge is labor.” 

$3.1B is lost each year as farms are unable to plant, harvest or process their crops due to the labor shortage. Just about every grower I know has a heartbreaking story of having to leave their crops unpicked.

Twenty years ago I was volunteering at a day labor center in Seattle. New people were showing up nearly every day that had recently crossed the border with the help of a coyote or a friend. They would tell me harrowing stories of huddling together in the cold of the desert nights, “aunque somos hombres,” (even though we’re men), nearly dying of thirst during the day, and eating nothing for days but a watermelon rind. The promise of a job doing heavy labor or picking fruit was enough to call people north, in hopes of sending money back home to support their families. 

But 20 years later in the US, the combination of stronger border enforcement, a falling birth rate in Mexico, and a stronger economy in Mexico have led to the flow of new workers lessening to a trickle. 

Meanwhile, the millions of folks that got through the porous border decades ago have been faithfully picking our apples in Washington, plucking our chickens in Arkansas and picking our strawberries in California. They’ve had families, raised their kids in the melting pot, and done their best to stay under the radar. With more fear and enforcement lately, some have finally thrown in the towel and taken their families back to a home they haven’t seen in years. Since 2009, 1 million Mexicans have gone home with only 840,000 arriving in the US, a net loss of 140,000.

Agriculture lobbyists, farmworker advocates, and immigration advocates have fought tirelessly to bring about common-sense legislation that can address the labor shortage, the legal status of existing farmworkers, and the rigidity of the H2A program. Previous proposals have proven to be too far to the left, too far to the right, or too poorly timed to succeed. But this latest bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, just passed the House with bipartisan support. There is a decent chance of it passing the Senate and being signed into law if, and only if, lawmakers hear from their voters, especially those in red states and counties. 

The new legislation would:

  • Allow farmworkers to seek legal status in the US

  • Make the H2A program more flexible

  • Require e-verify (though thankfully only after providing legal status to existing workers)

Please take 3 minutes to call your Senator at (202) 224-3121 and express your opinion on this important legislation. 

xmas tree.jpg

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the House, 
There were rumors a-stirring
Of a new bill we all could espouse
Sponsors had sprung
From the left and the right of the Chair
In hopes that a bi-partisan solution
Would finally be here;
Western Growers and UFW nestled all snug in the same bed, 
While visions of compromise danced in their heads;
With crops going unpicked and a big labor gap,
Everyone’s been racking their brains, and we built an
When out in DC there arose such a clatter,
We sprang from our beds to see what was the matter;
Away to phone lines everyone flew in a flash,
To call up their
Senator and make them abashed, 
If they were to even consider a vote of NO
On the most promising legislation since 30 years ago;
For what to our wondering eyes did appear,
But a more flexible H2A program and workers living without fear;
With H2A applications more streamlined and quick,
We thought for a moment, this must be a trick; 
Workers in agriculture, legal status could gain,
For themselves and their spouses and minor children they claim;
Now surely there are parts of the bill that need fixin’
But this bill provides a solution before e-verify would kick in;
To the lady at church! To the farmer with his drawl! 
Now call today! Call today! Call today all!
….And we heard it exclaimed by farmers and workers in the night,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.