Agriculture provisions of comprehensive immigration legislation should come through upcoming Senate hearings intact, industry leaders say.
Senate Judiciary Committee consideration of S. 744, called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” begins May 9, possibly continuing as late as the week of May 20.
More than 300 amendments were offered to the Senate bill by May 8.
Other provisions of the bill — including border security, cost and a low-skilled worker visa program — likely will get much more scrutiny than the agriculture provisions.
The full Senate could debate and vote on the legislation in June.
The Senate’s reform legislation creates a “blue card” system for the estimated 1.2 million undocumented foreign workers in the agricultural sector. That program would continue for five years. Under the plan, undocumented employees will be required to pay a penalty of $100 and prove they worked in the agriculture sector before Dec. 31, 2012, to be able to receive a blue card.
Under the legislation’s agricultural guest worker program, 112,000 new workers could gain legal entry during each of the first three years of the program. In years four and five, the number would be capped at a cumulative total of 337,000. After the fifth year the U.S. Department of Agriculture would set a cap based on the needs of U.S. producers.
Agriculture advocates are optimistic about a favorable result in the Senate for the legislation, said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president for Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.
“We’re still confident that the bipartisan coalition in the Senate is going to honor the hard-fought and well thought out ag (provisions).” Gasperini said.