California’s guest-worker bill, AB 20, was approved in committee last week and will now undergo fiscal analysis by the state Senate Appropriations Committee on August 27th. Prospects for this bill are significantly better than a 2012 attempt, which failed due to widespread opposition.
The bill would offer work permits and deportation relief to undocumented immigrants in the agricultural sector. As we have shown before, the bill would make it easier for California farmers to find the workers they need.
An estimated 2.7 million undocumented immigrants live in California, most of whom have been in the country for more than a decade. This bill would bring immigrants out of the shadows and let them work legally, improving their quality of life and the California agriculture sector. Estimates find that half the agricultural workforce is undocumented.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, said the bill would provide economic stability to the state’s agricultural industry. The bill could impact nearly half a million farmworkers in the state. Thirty of them testified at the hearing in support of the work-permit program.
Farm labor shortages have plagued the state for years. Shortages and the failed H-2A agricultural visa program result in too few workers available in season, reducing production. An adequate supply of labor would afford farms the certainty required for future planning.
Moreover, agriculture supports industry and nonfarm employment in the United States. Thus bolstering agriculture will provide economic benefits throughout the American economy. In 2013 nearly 17 million full- and part-time jobs were related to agriculture, more than 9 percent of U.S. employment.
This bill would also reduce undocumented immigration by creating a legal avenue for agricultural workers. Public-opinion polling suggest that the American people support legal immigrant workers. Legal immigration invokes the American dream and hard work. The bill is supported by California business and agricultural organizations, and by immigration experts.
With federal gridlock prompting immigration advocates to pursue state-based solutions, California is not the only one pursuing reform. State representatives in Texas have also introduced guest-worker programs this year. Since 2008, 13 states have pursued state-based visa programs, and more are likely to follow
State-based immigration reform provides new opportunities for those looking to improve the U.S. immigration system. California’s bill would be an excellent first step.