Key aspects of the bill that should interest dairy farmers as well as few concerns that are already being discussed.
By Ryan Miltner, attorney
Earlier this week, the "Gang of Eight" senators who have been crafting a package of comprehensive immigration reforms introduced the actual language of the proposed legislation.
The significance of the effort and the fact that a formal proposal has been introduced cannot be understated—and neither can the difficulty of the task that lies ahead. The complexity of this undertaking is evidenced in the sheer length of the bill—over 800 pages.
With a piece of legislation so comprehensive and so voluminous, to attempt a full breakdown of it is beyond the scope of any single article. Even a competent review of the provisions that directly affect agriculture would result in a discussion extending far in excess of the typical article. Nevertheless, I did want to point out the key aspects of the bill that should be of interest to dairy farmers, as well as share a few concerns that are already being discussed.
There are three key aspects of the proposed bill that should immediately draw the attention of the dairy farmer. First, there are the provisions that affect undocumented workers currently in the U.S. Second, there are the provisions that establish specific agricultural visas for new workers. Third, there are the provisions that are proposed to make all employers participate in an employment verification system—an improved E-Verify system.
Under the proposal, persons who are in the U.S. illegally and have been since at least Dec. 31, 2011, and can demonstrate a continuous presence in the country are eligible to apply for "Provisional" status. These persons would have to pay a $500 penalty and prove their character and fitness for residency. Such persons will be eligible to apply for a green card after five years, if they are agricultural workers.
The proposed legislation also establishes a specific category of visa for agricultural employers. The new visa would replace the existing H-2A temporary agricultural worker program with a far more flexible, year-round, ag worker visa. This provides a potentially huge victory for dairy farmers, who currently do not have access to an effective guest worker program.
Finally, the proposed legislation would phase in the mandatory use of electronic identity verification for employers. The use of the program would be phased in over five years. The "enhanced" program will provide for exact photo matching, possible biometric matching, and safeguards to protect Social Security numbers from being used by undocumented workers.
Already, the discussion over the specifics of the bill, the concerns of interest parties about what needs to be fixed, and the vocal opposition of some opponents are surfacing. Filtering through all of this chatter, I found three statements of particular interest.
With respect to the registration of currently undocumented workers, I have heard several producers suggest that the number of workers who will register will be small, due principally to the mistrust of the government by those here. In contrast to that point, a recent survey suggests that nearly 90% of such persons will register. Depending on which perspective is correct will determine how useful the program is for dairy employers.
Second, there is some speculation that the recent failure of the Senate to close debate on gun-control background-check legislation is due, in part, to senators wishing to preserve their political capital for a vote on immigration. That is, senators who voted against gun control legislation may have done so to protect themselves when they vote for immigration reform. That is a politically fascinating concept.
Finally, and most importantly, is a statement from one very experienced Senate staffer, who said succinctly in regards to the bill, "It has a long way to go."
Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.