Rep. Panetta on FWMA: “It’s not the perfect bill but it is the necessary bill...”

The House passes the Farm Workforce Modernization Act today, creating a pathway to legal status for ag workers and streamlining the H-2A program.

The bill passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 247 to 174. California Democrat Jimmy Panetta says that the bill works because it is bipartisan.

According to Panetta, “It is the right bill because it was a negotiated bill. Yes, it’s not the perfect bill but it is the necessary bill that was formulated after months and months of difficult talks between Democrats and Republicans and farmers and farmworkers.”

During the debate, the legislation faced significant opposition from non-farm lawmakers, who pointed to the current situation at the border as a reason to block illegal farmworkers from receiving legal status.

However, Ag Committee member Jim Costa, who told lawmakers he has worked side by side with immigrants on his family farm, pushed back against the opposition.

“It is simply wrong that they be subjected to living and working under a shadow of uncertainty and fear of being deported. That’s not right!” Costa states. “This bill is not about the border, the border has been a problem for decades. It’s not about amnesty. This is an earned basis to have legal status in America.”

Republican Ag Committee members Doug LaMalfa and Glen Thompson both rose in support of the bill, but Thompson noted there was still room for improvement.

“It will not fully address the shortage of legal agricultural workers, it may leave our farmers and ranchers, especially our dairies, with critical, unmet needs. I filed an amendment that would have addressed these deficiencies; it was endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Though not made in order, I hope the amendment will serve as a starting point in the Senate for necessary improvements,” Rep. Thompson explains.

Speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier in the day, Robert Guenther, Senior VP of Public Policy at United Fresh Produce Association, says that he is optimistic about the bill’s potential in the Senate.

Guenther states, “We feel confident that we can get to 60 votes because it is clear that agriculture touches every Senator in the Senate and the impact that this bill will have on their constituents is critical for them to strongly consider supporting these efforts.”

Ahead of the vote, more than 350 farms and ag groups signed onto a letter to Congress expressing their support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.