California legislators are considering a measure to allow farmworkers living in the country illegally to get work permits.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that a similar measure died in the statehouse three years ago, opposed by labor unions and immigrants' rights groups who wanted a nationwide immigration overhaul.
But with Congress failing to pass immigration reform, California lawmakers took it up again. The measure, AB20, moved quickly through the Assembly last month but faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.
"Here we are three years later, and we can't wait any longer," Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, the bill's author, told the Times. "Different organizations continue to look to Washington. Meanwhile, it's our families back home, especially those working in agriculture, who are suffering the most, with no solution in sight."
Instead of granting a temporary work visa to foreign laborers as existing programs do, it would give permits to people already residing in California without authorization and working in agriculture.
The workers, their spouses and children who are in school could remain in the state without threat of deportation. The workers would need to be 18 years old and have performed a minimum amount of farm labor in the state. Felons or those with at least three misdemeanor convictions would not be eligible.
Alejo said the bill would create a group to seek authority from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the program.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, one of just two "no" votes on the bill in the Assembly, said immigration decisions should lie with Washington.
"I get really concerned with how much the state Legislature wants to get involved with federal issues," Harper told the Times. "If people want to get involved in immigration issues, they should probably run for Congress."