Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Representatives Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Michael Conaway (R-Texas), and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) today introduced the bipartisan AG and Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 6417). Representatives Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chair of the Republican Study Committee, John Katko (R-N.Y.), chair of the Tuesday Group, and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus, are also original cosponsors.
The AG and Legal Workforce Act replaces the outdated and broken H-2A agricultural guestworker program with a new, workable agricultural guestworker program, known as the H-2C program, to ensure America’s farmers and ranchers have access to a reliable workforce. The H-2C program is available to both seasonal and year-round agricultural employers, provides a generous visa allocation to ensure labor needs are met, provides much needed flexibility to minimize disruptions in farm operations, eliminates regulatory burdens, and contains effective accountability and enforcement provisions. These provisions are supported by over 200 agricultural groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The AG and Legal Workforce Act also requires all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, an effective web-based program that protects jobs for legal workers. The bill repeals the error-prone, paper-based I-9 system and replaces it with E-Verify. It contains a gradual phase-in for employers—starting with the largest employers first and eventually phasing in small businesses and agricultural employers.
Below are statements on the introduction of the AG and Legal Workforce Act.
Chairman Goodlatte: “The AG and Legal Workforce Act addresses two of the most pressing issues facing our immigration system: illegal immigration and the need for a workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s farmers and ranchers. To address illegal immigration, the bill gradually rolls out E-Verify nation-wide to ensure jobs are protected for legal workers. E-Verify – a user-friendly, web-based program that quickly confirms 99% of work-eligible employees – takes less than two minutes to use and is an effective tool to combat illegal immigration.
“Importantly, the AG and Legal Workforce Act also creates a new, workable agricultural guestworker program to ensure labor demands are met and crops get to market on time. The bill incorporates many of the comments and concerns I have heard from the agriculture community over the past several years. When not enough Americans can be found to fill jobs, the bill ensures that American farmers have access to a reliable workforce to fill positions needed to keep their farms afloat. The agricultural community has waited far too long for a workable guestworker program and it’s past time to enact a solution.”
Congressman Peterson: “Farmers and ranchers across the country have repeatedly told us of their need for a reliable workforce. This will help to move that process forward and address an issue that is long overdue.”
Congressman Smith: “Expanding the E-Verify system accomplishes two goals: it protects jobs for American workers and reduces illegal immigration by cutting off the jobs magnet. Requiring all U.S. employers to check the work authorization of new employees ensures that the jobs only go to Americans and legal workers. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 82% of voters favor requiring business owners to check the immigration status of employees they hire. E-Verify receives the most public support of any proposed immigration reform.”
Congressman Cuellar: “The Ag and Legal Workforce Act will help us meet important goals and offers vast improvements over the existing H-2A program. This bill will help address the shortage of workers that the agricultural industry has been experiencing over the years by ensuring that there is a steady flow of labor. It will also allow experienced agricultural workers who are currently undocumented in the U.S. to join and participate in the H-2C program and work here legally. I respectfully ask for bipartisan support and urge swift passage of the Ag and Legal Workforce Act for America’s hardworking agricultural producers and farm workers.”
Congressman Newhouse: “The current labor shortage facing farmers must be improved by fixing the legal guest worker program. Farmers and our rural economy are being harmed by the current bureaucratic system that is not even available to all of agriculture. In order to continue domestic production of our own safe and affordable food in the U.S., Congress must pass legislation to reform our guest worker program and provide a stable, legal workforce for agriculture. I applaud the Speaker and Majority Leader for their commitment to bring this to the floor.”
Congressman Conaway: “We need an ag worker program that respects our nation’s immigration laws and keeps American agriculture competitive. This bill takes important steps to cut red tape and institutes a flexible program that accounts for the different labor needs of various producers. Chairman Goodlatte has been very responsive to the concerns of the ag community, and I look forwarding to working with him to help shepherd this legislation through the House.”
Congressman Calvert: “I commend Chairman Goodlatte and Representative Lamar Smith for their dedication and hard work on one of the toughest issues our Conference, and the Congress, faces: illegal immigration. The bill introduced today takes a monumental step towards ending the incentive that brings people here illegally: mandating the use of E-Verify. However, we need to be realistic about the labor needs of the agricultural industry and that is why this bill includes a workable guest labor program. I am grateful to the Chairman for the additional modifications that have gone even farther to accommodate agricultural labor needs. The time to act is now and I look forward to supporting this bill on the Floor.”
Additional original cosponsors of the bill are: Representatives Ralph Abraham (R-La.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), James Comer (R-Ky.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), John Curtis (R-Utah), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), Ron Estes (R-Kan.), John Faso (R-N.Y.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Tom Marino (R-Pa.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), David Rouzer (R-N.C.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).